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Keith Kron

Keynote Presentation 2 by Keith Kron

Keith Kron:
We talked about this a little before the break, but I want to talk about, and I won’t mention as much of it now, the huge impact that religious educators had on our movement. Jean Navias’ impact is probably… will always be underrated in terms of what he did. He did so much behind the scenes. Frank Robertson who is a minister of religious education all over. I think I first met him when he was the MRA at Evanston when Barb and Ann were there, and you’d hear an occasional saying, “Some people are complaining that there are too many gay people on the staff at Evanston,” because the music director —

Speaker 2:
We’re all queer.

Keith Kron:
Pardon?

Speaker 2:
We are all queer.

Keith Kron:
We are all queer. Meg Riley, religious educator Minneapolis, I remember when you were selected as the new director. It’s like, “Who is this person? I have no idea who this person was.” We just hadn’t crossed circles before then. Liz Benjamin, religious educator in Ottawa, another person who had a significant impact in Canada. Wonderful women. A real role model up there for so many. And we talked about AYS and then our whole lives, and the impact that it has made on folks over the year. And we were talking about LRY and then YRUU. I remember I was a advisor at one of the YRUUs in… I forget which place it was in the mid-nineties and was in this conversation group about sexuality.
And one of the kids in the group just said in this very disappointed voice, “I used to think I was Bi, but I guess I’m straight.” And it was just like, this is how far we’ve come, that someone in the mid-1990s can no longer question their sexuality and now feels like the world is different. And it is interesting to see how quickly our understanding of what sexual orientation is and how clearly defined and not clearly defined it has become. Because it used to be that it really mattered if you were gay or straight. In the first welcoming congregation manual, Ellen Brenner, minister in Kent, Washington, that’s the only piece in the original welcoming congregation that really deals specifically with bisexuality.

There wasn’t a session on it. It was just an article that usually people read. But there were times when there were fights, even within Unitarian Universalism about there really isn’t such a thing as bisexuality. And so many of our ministers who identified as Bi would even say this to their congregations, but because they were in a relationship, the congregation would not remember that particular piece of their identity. They would just remember them as heterosexual or lesbian as opposed to being bisexual. Another person who I didn’t mention earlier, that someone came and talked to me, many of you remember Dean Starr who had a profound impact on who we are.
But I’m going to talk a little bit now about some of the events that really shaped who we are. We talked a little bit about civil unions in 1984 in Columbus. And that was a really significant moment for Unitarian Universalists about whether our ministers or not could actually take a stand and be public about this. Because so often, so many of our congregations were willing to be accepting of people as long as they didn’t have to talk about it too much. And we would see this, as I get to later, as I talk about the impact of Beyond Categorical Thinking. The early days of, Beyond Categorical Thinking, if we get a gay minister, we’ll become the gay church.

Yes, and they still say it.

Keith Kron:
And they still say it, but not with quite the frequency that they used to and how it works. Earlier, I mentioned that this is what I want to spend a little bit of time talking about because I think there’s such interesting history here. In 1987 in Little Rock, when we passed the resolution on sodomy laws and whether we should go to States that had sodomy laws or not. We passed it. People were worried about what it meant and what we would do. Fresh on people’s minds where the fact that we just pulled out of Phoenix, Arizona around Martin Luther King and it became one of the struggles of Unitarian universalism at a particular time.

In 1991 where we had our first opportunity, because ‘88 was Palm Springs, ‘89, New Haven, ‘90 was Milwaukee where they didn’t have sodomy laws on the books. In ‘91, we went to Hollywood, Florida, and the sodomy law protest was basically us handing out pink triangles. And that’s where the pink triangle pretty much originated within Unitarian Universalism. People attached them to their name tags, but there were a lot of questions as where is the public event? We thought Bill was going to… Bill Schultz, was going to be speaking at the rally in Miami for Pride.

And there was actually a lot of disappointment that this was all we were doing, which that was the GA where I was elected to serve on the GA planning committee. And so the next opportunity was a rather famous General Assembly and UU history, which is in Charlotte, North Carolina. Where not only where we had a presidential election and where I was in charge of the sodomy protest that Meg and Mark Belletini and I, and Denny all worked on, on trying to make it happen. Some of you may remember the Thomas Jefferson birthday ball that happened in ’93. And the two events actually have some common history. We had been very careful in the sodomy law protest to have something that was going to be very public.

We had it outside of the Omni Hotel. We had alerted the police that there might be some sort of counter demonstration. There might be some sort of a protest in some kind of way, trying to make sure that the event would happen safely. And then so when all of what happened around the Thomas Jefferson birthday ball happened, one of the things that was a part of the story is that when the police came, they actually first thought that people who were protesting the Thomas Jefferson birthday ball, were showing up in response to the sodomy law protest from the night before. And some of our folks actually had to go and explain to the police what this was actually about.

And it was when we did a program this last year at General Assembly about the Thomas Jefferson birthday ball, which was a very interesting piece of history, but it was both were just reminders that the work is never done and there’s always more work to do. It also impacted the ‘94 General Assembly in Fort Worth because no one wanted to do another sodomy law protest the year after we’d done one in ‘93. And the compromise, Meg remind me, remember this, we could get Mel White who is to come and speak to the General Assembly as sort of our sodomy protest. And it affected how we were public after that in ‘97 when we actually did go back to Phoenix, the sodomy law protest was relegated to a GA workshop.

And Harry Hay came and spoke. If those of you who remember the Mattachine Society in the GA workshop. And then so it was like, okay, what do we do in ‘99 when we go to Salt Lake where there had been strong concern about… I was chair of the GA planning committee that actually picked Salt Lake City as a place to go to. And the questions were, were we going to go to Long Beach where we’re going to be safe or were we going to go to Salt Lake City where we actually would do something visible. And a couple of my favorite stories about this, Barbara Prairie, some of you may remember, is the GA administrator. She and I did the search site. We went to all three sites. Salt Lake City was clearly the best site.

We met with some local gay lesbian Bi leaders in Salt Lake who said, “Please come.” So and I look at Diane the day before I did my career assessment center in Boston in 1994, I spent the weekend with the board of the UUA talking about should we be a place where we go and protest or should we just boycott particular places. They decided at that particular point to go with Salt Lake City as the GA site. And we began to plan what are we going to do after in ‘98 to do a public protest. And that was the time when I think I went out six different times to Salt Lake City to work with the local community about what would be useful.

Some of you remember that. Who was at the 1999 first Salt Lake? Sue Redfern-Campbell was actually a minister at South Valley during that particular time. And my favorite story was my first visit to Salt Lake City as part of the planning, because it was a full year in advance and I stepped off the plane in Salt Lake City. And there was a huge sign that said, “Welcome, 1998 Southern Baptist Convention.” It was like this will be even more interesting. And for those of you who remember the history, which I suspect most don’t, the Southern Baptist had encouraged an additional 3,000 people to come to Salt Lake City to try and convert the Mormons to Southern Baptism.

I show up at the hotel and the woman nervously asks me, “Why am I here?” And I tell her, “I’m here because our convention is here in 1999,” and she actually breathed a sigh of relief. And she said, “I’m a Mormon. We’ve heard all these stories that they’re going to be people who are going to try and convert us as we’re going to our cars, anytime we’re out in public.” Well, sure enough, that night on the way to dinner with Sue and some other people from the Salt Lake City community, I’m walking and there are two guys walking behind me. And they start asking, they say, “Hi, are you from here?” And I go, “No, I’m from Boston, Massachusetts.” And they were disappointed.

But still because they were Southern Baptists, and just so you know, I grew up a Southern Baptist, they started asking me all kinds of questions. And then they asked me what I did. They told me that they were here for the Southern Baptist Convention and I was like, “Okay, this is the one time not on an airplane when I’m actually excited to tell people what I do.” I said, “Well, I’m Keith Kron, I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister.” And they kind of were like, “We don’t think we’ve ever heard of Unitarian Universalists before.” They asked a couple of questions about that. They’re still puzzled by it because they just didn’t understand it out of Christian context.

But one of them did ask, “What do you do for… ?” And it was just like I just got this smile on my face and went, “I’m the Director of the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns.” And they flinched. And I’m just really enjoying myself. And I said, “I’m here because our national convention, denominational General Assembly is here next year and I’m here so we can support the local gay, lesbian, BI and Trans community at Salt Lake City.” And they flinched again and then they wanted to argue theology. I said, “Well, you do need to know I grew up a Southern Baptist and I left Southern Baptism because it was so homophobic, and I didn’t agree with the theology.”

I said, “I really have more of a Universalist theology that God loves everyone without the judgment.” And they wanted to just argue with me for the entire time, but you could just see the wheels spinning in their head the entire time they were talking. And it still remains one of my all-time favorite conversations that I’ve had as a Unitarian Universalist minister in our movement, because it was really a chance. And that General Assembly, we actually did pretty amazing social justice and public witness work. This was the General Assembly where we had the prom you never had. And we worked with the local Salt Lake City gay, lesbian, Bi, Trans community and invited them, over 500 people from the local Salt Lake City community came to this event.

John Buehrens was on a panel with the Catholic Bishop, the Episcopalian Bishop and a Mormon elder came, and talked. And we were making news all over the place in Salt Lake City. And it was in some ways a turning point for us that we could do witness and we could be public about it in a way that helped launch us into being less afraid and less inwardly focused in terms of what we did. And in conjunction with Meg having really begun to lay the groundwork for all of this public witness work by coming back after national gay lesbian task force meeting in 1992, I think, where she’d become very aware of what the religious far-right was doing and how we needed to step up a religious voice and stop it.

And in some ways this was one of our shining moments about that. But I also think there was a huge reluctance for so often in Unitarian Universalism for us to be public about anything. I mean, one of the truisms, for example, that we learned in the welcoming congregation work was that a lot of our congregations would report, well, we’ve discovered we’re not really welcoming to anyone, let alone gay and lesbians. And that’s still true in a lot of places. But this was actually, it’s like because there were suggestions in the manual about how to be more welcoming to gay and lesbian people. And congregations were realizing we’re not doing this for straight people, let alone gay and lesbian people. And so it was a real moment.

One of the other credits that Meg should get is that Meg hired, at the time, a young lesbian to be the administrator for OBGLTC, a person named Barb Greve. And three months into the job, Barb suggested to me, at that time, she was still using female pronouns, that maybe we needed to add transgender to what the office had done, had called itself. And I was like, “Sure, let’s alphabetize in that way no one can assume that we are playing favorites other than alphabetically.” But that launched a period of work that has continued to really transform our world. And we had to do a lot of education not only about ourselves. And we look at how far we have come in really 23 years around all of this.

I mean, I predict in 10 years we’re all going to be they, them, theirs or that will become the new standard for who we are in terms of pronouns. And as it worked, it helped bring Trans ministers really more into our movement. It’s only been in the last couple of years that has become a significant less issue than it was and where Trans ministers can now really apply as openly Trans ministers. And now the words that we’re using; gender non-binary, have become used quite frequently in our congregations. How many of you are in a congregation where you list your pronouns on your name tag? Some. Some. We’re just going to see more and more of this.

One other event that I think was critically important to Unitarian Universalism happened in 1998. I was out doing the Beyond Categorical Thinking in Golden Colorado where Barbara and Jaco were serving as the interim ministers. And that was the weekend that Matthew Shepard had been left at the fence in Laramie, Wyoming. And the congregations, McKenna and Bob Morris, were serving in Cheyenne at the time. No one was serving in Casper. A man named Steve Johnson, who some of you may remember, was serving in Laramie part-time. They asked if there could be some sort of UUA presence because Cheyenne was hosting an interfaith gathering and Steve really didn’t know what to do in the face of this tragedy.

This is one of the more surprising moments of my ministry in the old office because we went back, we were on a staff retreat that entire week and then had a public witness meeting where John said, “I really don’t think you should go back to Wyoming this weekend.” And I just thought it was really important that we have to show up and have some presence there. And in talking with Bob and Makannah Morris, and with Steve, we worked it all out. I flew back out. We did an interfaith service. The only other religious person there besides Bob and Makannah, and I was Troy Perry who had founded the Metropolitan Community Church.

Both of us were interviewed for local Cheyenne TV, which in one case the videographer for the interview turned out to be the evening newscaster. That’s how small the operation was in Cheyenne. They had one reporter and one news broadcaster, and they worked as a team. And then the next day I went over to Laramie to talk with the congregation. And Steve had said, “I’ll have you say a few words and then we’ll take people out to the fence and leave some flowers.” And so that Sunday morning, you’ve all had a moment similar to this, Steve gets up and lavishes lots of praise on me. And I said, “And now Reverend Kron will now give the sermon for this morning.”

And inwardly you’re going, “What?” But then you just start talking because that’s what you do. And then we go out to the fence where Matthew had been left. And we’re out there and Steve said, “I have some flowers and now Reverend Kron will lead the Memorial service for Mathew Shepard.” I talked again for about another 5 to 10 minutes, probably said exactly what I’d said that morning before and left. And yet it was still one of those profound moments I had in my old job, just to stand by the fence to think of this young man who had been left to die, and what had happened.

I went to Casper that evening where Matthew was originally from and met some people from the congregation and some community members came. One of them was one of Matthew’s good friends and he was able to say, “You know what, I grew up with Matthew. He was my good friend.” And then he just started to cry. And I watched this community of people surround this young man to give him support. It was just a moment. And it was a turning point for Unitarian Universalism and the welcoming congregation, because all of a sudden, the number of congregations starting to do welcoming congregation every year basically tripled after Matthew Shepard.

It was a real wake up call for the people in our congregations who said, “What’s wrong? Everything is fine.” We now had the realization in the moment that everything wasn’t fine and that we needed to do something and to say that we were different, that we were not like this particular place in Wyoming. And I think that that moment probably changed Unitarian Universalism and the United States as much as any moment around gay, lesbian, Bi and Trans issues, in particular. And Meg, you knew Judy Shepard, you know Judy Shepard. You’ve worked with her over the years.

The other significant event was our work toward marriage equality. And it really started with Bill Sinkford because he was actually one of… he was a friend of one of the judges in Hawaii who had made the initial ruling around this that then got quickly overturned. But he actually came to the UUA one day and talked to many of us about marriage. And then in 2000 when all of the work in Vermont happened around civil unions, our ministers there were instrumental in making that happen, particularly in the state of Vermont. I look at Jane who lives in Vermont and served in Derby Line and the committee. But so many of the ministers in the interfaith group supporting equal marriage were in fact Unitarian Universalists, and they did a good job of rotating the non-Unitarian Universalists into public speaking roles so that it really did look like it was an interfaith group. But it was primarily Johanna Nichols, Nancy Crumbine, any number of colleagues who are working on this particular issue of marriage equality Anyway.

Right, right. There are all kinds of people who did significant work and it was so important for the people in Vermont to hear that religion was not of one voice on a particular issue. And I really think that was maybe some of the most significant work that some of our local congregations did to really shift the tide. Because what you discovered as soon as people who weren’t particularly interested in church or had an issue, realized that religion did not agree on one issue. There wasn’t one place on the moral compass to turn to, it allowed them to make up their own minds. Which is also a hallmark for Vermont, but I think it also just made a difference.

2003, Goodridge case in Massachusetts. We were very lucky that we 140 congregations in the state of Massachusetts. And all the work that happened there, 7 of the 14 plaintiffs identified as Unitarian Universalists in the Massachusetts Supreme Court case. The clerk who issued the first marriage license in the state, Unitarian Universalist in Cambridge. The impact of the work that we had done really built all of this and was just a huge significant. And Bill Sinkford started the Freedom to Marry Fund. One of the things that we had learned, by the way, is when I went to Wyoming, the stewardship and development folks put out an appeal saying we showed up in Wyoming and they raised close to $100,000 just by having our presence be there.

And by having this presence, the Freedom to Marry Fund Bill started, we raised a lot of money to encourage work happening in our congregations. A lot of you, Phyllis (Hubbell) referenced this, refuse to sign marriage licenses for a while. How many of you actually did that? A number of you did that. Anyways, that we made news. Some of you may remember Rhett Baird in Macon, Georgia being the first person who said they weren’t going to sign a certificate. So huge impact and then the work that happened afterwards, Lindi Ramsden in California, in many ways became the tipping point state on this particular issue.

First having the failed vote and then the work that all moved forward. Lots of work that she did when she was working for the California legislative justice work. And then now that we have equal marriage in the United States, the difference that has made and the way that people talk and perceive one another. Huge, huge change. Couple of last things that I want to talk about before we stop for questions and answers. I talked to several of you during the break about Beyond Categorical Thinking. Many of you know it existed in forums before 1989 working on discrimination towards women. There were workshops that were done.

Marni and Diane, and who else was just telling me about some of their work with this, significant work that we did, because people would go into churches and hear things like, “You are our second choice. Our congregation just isn’t ready for you yet.” And we began to hear those stories not only from women, but also from BGLT folks, from ministers of color, from ministers with disabilities, and really started that work. And when I came on and did… Jackie James just told me one weekend, “You’re coming with me to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, you’re going to do a BCT with me and learn how to do it.” Which I went to, I ended up doing like four that year.

I began to keep track of what some of the typical things that were said around ministers, some of the typical things that that came up, these included like will our children be safe around a gay or lesbian minister. In fact, in 1996, it was the number two concern that I heard in my visit. In 1996, if you think that’s something, in 1996 around ministers of color, whom at that time we assumed were all African-American. The number two concern was will a minister of color, will an African-American be smart enough to be our minister. Significant work that we had to do.

And Congregations would also say as they would apply, “We don’t need to do this. We’re welcoming to everyone. Anyone can come in.” And we’ve seen that change and people who have committed themselves to being trainers. Jane, how long have you been doing?

Jane:
21 years.

Keith Kron:
21 years. People who have done this for a very long time committed to the work. For some of our folks, it’s their primary way that they are Unitarian Universalists now depending on where they are. And we have seen some breakthroughs. It was about 10 years ago, though it still will come up occasionally that I stopped hearing, “Will our kids be safe?”

Jane:
We don’t hear that bisexual ministers [inaudible 00:31:47] were even around.

Keith Kron:
Right. Still in 1996, we didn’t cover transgender ministers. Here’s an example of the evolution. Five or six years ago, we would always hear our congregation isn’t ready for this yet. It has slightly shifted and I still think of this as progress to our older people aren’t ready for a transgender yet. How much of that is projection? Who knows? But I still see it as a shift away from people saying, “We’re not ready for it yet.” I still occasionally hear about a bisexual minister will be promiscuous. And then I just sorted out, well, here are the people who have been promiscuous in our movement and they primarily fall under the straight white male categories.

But the big changes, it’s like there are almost no concerns now raised around calling a minister who’s gay or lesbian. We just simply do not hear that at anywhere close to the same level as we did even 10 years ago. And this last year, I take this as a major accomplishment of the program. For years, the number one concern about an African American and for a long time gay, lesbian, Bi, Trans minister that we’d hear all the time is they will be a single issue minister. This is all they will talking about. This year for the first time, the number one concern I’ve heard in our movement in the BCTs and the other trainers have said this too, we have more prejudice here than we think we do.

And that I think is in support of all the work of the white supremacy teachings of having Susan Frederick-Gray, in particular, raised this as an important value for us to be looking at. So we’re finally beginning to see some change which then produces some good challenges. I want to talk about the role of Interweave and its various installations, particularly in the early years, 1985. I know that Meg and Dorothy, and Dee were you there in 1985 in Houston?

Dee:
Donna was there too.

Keith Kron:
Donna was there too. First one was in Houston, Texas, first gathering. Doug Strong tells me there was a gathering of queer ministers before Brunswick in ‘82, he’s the only person who’s told me that. I don’t know how public that was. But in ‘85, it was a grant and a lot of people converged in Houston, Texas for the first meeting to actually begin to organize about how do we make our denomination more welcoming. And a lot of people came from a lot of different congregations in places to make this happen. But what I noticed about four of the first five congregations, they were all congregations that were being served or had been served by a minister who was gay or lesbian.

Because ’86, the one exception was San Diego. But Helen Bishop was a part of that congregation who as some of you know, could be a very loud and determined voice in our movement. And Tom (Owen-Towle) had written the book with Chris Hassett, who was a member of the congregation, about a straight man and a gay man becoming friends. ’87, we were in the Toronto area where Mark was serving. ’88, we were in Portland, Maine, where Dick Hasty was still well remembered at the time.

Huh? Maine. Did I say? Oregon? Maine, Maine. And in ‘89, he came to Lexington, Kentucky where Charlie Kast had been the minister and we are currently served at the time that we didn’t know he was going to come out by David Blanchard, who was Diane’s intern some years ago. So there are people working behind the scenes to make a lot of work happen and we watched a lot of work being started by people who never got credit, and who helped really make things happen. I’m going to close with my favorite story in the office and it was… and I’ll blame Meg because Meg made me go to this conference in my first year.

She goes, “You should really go to this.” It was a gathering at the seminary in Nashville of religious leaders to talk about gender, religion and sexuality. And I was there representing Unitarian Universalism, and this was a wide ranging group of folks. To my left was a representative from the Church of God, and to my right was a representative from the Church of Christ. And we’re going around the circle, and the man from the Church of Christ whose name was either John or Paul, I can’t remember who is who, said, “Hi. My name is…”We’ll say he’s John. “My name is John. I’m from the Church of Christ and you should just know that we are to the right of the right.”

And then he turns, passes the microphone to me. We’re all sitting at this U-shaped table. And I go, “Hi, my name is Keith Kron. I’m with a Unitarian Universalists. I direct the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns. And we are to the left of the left.” Now what you should know is in that moment of me introducing myself, I had to stop and pause because John and Paul were scooting their chairs away from me because they didn’t want to sit that close. And we had three days of conversations about gender, sexuality, and religion. And on the last day, they come up to me along with two other folks who are fairly conservative and said, “We would love to have lunch with you.”

And I went, “Oh, this is going to be so fun.” And I went it’s also going to be a learning opportunity because it’s all or any, let’s just see what happens. And I went, “Sure.” We were in Nashville and I went to the University of Tennessee. I’m from Tennessee. We started talking about safe subjects, we started talking about Tennessee football and they were all surprised. I knew more about football than any of them did. And then we got to what they really wanted to talk about. They said, “We wanted you to know, we have listened at what you have said this week and we have disagreed with every single thing you have said. But we just wanted to know, we have respect for you because at least you are clear about what you believe.”

And as we got to talking throughout the conference, what really had driven them crazy were the denominations that were waffling on various issues of gender, religion, and sexuality. They had more respect for me and for Bill Johnson from the UCC for being clear than they did for the people who simply couldn’t make up our minds. And I think about that moment and I think about all of these different moments, and I think about all the people who came before us who helped make that moment and the subsequent moments possible. Because we have done all of this work collectively together, whether we identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender, non-binary, questioning and it has been a common work of which we still have work to do.

But has gotten to this point where we can be here today and celebrate and commemorate the years of work that we have done that have put us in a place where there is without equivocation. This is what Unitarian Universalism stands for. To all of those of you who have done this work, who have suffered from this work, who have been allies to this work, let me just conclude by saying thank you for what you have done and let’s not stop here. We can always be more welcoming, more inclusive, and a better religious faith. And we’ll stop now for questions.

(applause)

Keith Kron:
Thank you. Thank you by the way. I’ve always said to congregations when I show up for the first time, what I say will be a reflection of your sound system. Questions, Phyllis?

Phyllis:
I have two and they’re about the future. When John and I first started working in Maryland in their General Assembly, it wasn’t about same sex marriage because nobody was talking about same sex marriage, they were talking about civil unions. But we were talking about equality of the right to work, the right to have housing. And Maryland did pass such laws, but many States, I believe the overwhelming majority of States do not have such legislation now and there’s no federal guarantee. It feels to me like that has gotten —

Keith Kron:
Well, let me tell you a slight story about this. One of the things that Barb and I discovered when we were in the office as the UUA actually didn’t have an official statement in its hiring practices that they didn’t discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people. It was just assumed that we wouldn’t do that. And there were people who actually said, “Well, why do we need to add this in?” And it was just like, you’re probably better served by having this in, I mean, and just being public about it. And I think now people assume it’s just done. We don’t have to worry about this anymore. They never go to Chick-Fil-A. I mean.

Phyllis:
Yeah. Yeah. So there is more work to be done on that. The other thing is the last couple of years as we had been focusing back on how we are with regard to race relations and white supremacy, it has occurred to me that those same kind of attitudes, probably our LGBTQ folks are still getting that. And many of us who are straight, and I’ll speak for myself, have just assumed, “Oh, the battle is won.” So any —

Keith Kron:
Well, that just makes me think, in 1996, I went to… how many of you remember the 1990s version of our anti-racism work with Crossroads Ministry and The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. And my first experience was being at Riverside church in New York City. Tracy Robinson Harris, Hope and Janice Marie Johnson were there. And I remember sitting at this training and thinking they’re talking about systematic oppression. And I remember thinking we get to talk about this because I had just assumed we were not going to ever get to talk about this in my lifetime.

That what we could talk about his individual oppression toward gay, lesbian, Bi and now trans people. But the idea of looking at something systematically was so off my radar screen. I mean, and I remain forever indebted in particular to the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond because they were I think much… well, they were much easier for me to work with than Crossroads Ministry because they were less Lutheran in their theology about how they approach this. For beginning to help me think about all oppression in a systematic way because I didn’t think we were going to get there.

And I think the work, at least for our denomination happened way too soon. It would be interesting to take a look at some of that work and if it were done now, how people would refer to it. Dequenne and I still refer to it as the best training on racism we’ve ever been to. And having led it in any number of our congregations for seminarians, doing it for a Quaker group one time, you think we resist? The Quakers were worse at the resisting. There are parts of it I think are absolutely brilliant and I think many of our folks just simply weren’t ready for it to talk about this in this particular ways.

And there wasn’t the added element at the time of an intersectionality approach to oppression, which I think is probably critical to talk about. Because they were times when it would often feel like people were fighting over who got the most resources. Dee.

Dee:
Keith mentioned briefly about our experience being a lesbian family with children. And I don’t know if we were the first ones to search as an out lesbian family with kids or not. But I can tell you, my kids were the first, at least they seemed like they were the first at General Assembly to go to Young Fun and to be in kids’ programs, and educating the caregivers who would say, “Where’s your mom? Where’s your dad?” And they’d say, “Well, we have two moms.” And then of course because they were different colors, it would be, “Yes, we’re sisters.”

Dee:
And I just am really proud of my kids, that they went through countless workshops and UU gatherings and other places where they were the kids explaining this to the grownups who were supposed to be responsible for them. Yeah, I’m just so grateful to have kids that could grow through that and grow up and be somewhat successful at this point. Thank you all for supporting them.

Speaker 4:
You didn’t mention anything about the No On Nine campaign in Oregon. I was wondering about that because that was very significant to us in the Pacific Northwest.

Keith Kron:
Yeah. That was a critical moment. And that golden opportunity where Marilyn Sewell was able to wrap the congregation in a red ribbon and declare it a safe zone. The whole block, it was pretty amazing and it made a real impact. And again, it was evident we could do social justice in the public arena. But it was very interesting also to talk to congregations who weren’t in large liberal cities about what they thought they could do. And there was more of a struggle and yet there were still congregations that were willing to do it. I mean, but it was just hard.
But there was like, “Oh, we can do this.” I mean, I really think the fact that it was Portland, really helped. I think the fact that it was Marilyn who had a good reputation in the wider Portland area in terms of being a woman minister of a large congregation really helped. I think all of that just contributed to that success. I mean, there were lots of campaigns that happened and other ones and that was the first big one that a congregation really undertook that people would talk about for years, actually.

Speaker 5:
There’s a lot I want to say about that time, that’s really critical history. Can I jump off for you?

Speaker 4:
Yeah, just… I know, but this is related too. I just want to say every one of these things you are mentioning, please put it on a sticky note and put it on the timeline, so that way it’ll become at least a mention in this. So please do that. Fill this in.

Meg:
I just wanted to lift this time up because I think it was absolutely critical. That’s when I was in the office, 1992 and Colorado had amendment two and Oregon had a particularly hateful amendment nine, and ballot measure nine. And I remember going out to the ministers gathering in PNWD and let’s talk about imperfect people. Peter Rable saying to the colleagues, “The UUA, really, we’re on our own here. Let us commit to raising for organizers right here and right now.” And the ministers in that room committed to raising $5,000 right then and there and that money went to pay an organizer a pitiful amount of money in Oregon, in Idaho and in Washington.
And the UUA was embarrassed enough to cough up a little bit of money to match it. But those organizers then works… I mean Marilyn Sewell got a lot of press, but Corvallis, these Salem, all kinds of places were really stepping out and I know because I was driving around the Northwest, how much it would mean to see these oases. So just want to lift up the leadership of that ministerial gathering, which was very moving.

Keith Kron:
I mean and can I just add? I mean there is a whole lot of information in both Meg and Jay that we should just be tapping into because they were in the heart of it before I was. And there’s a whole lot of people, a whole lot of work that basically went unseen that I might know snippets of stories, but they know so much of it. It is interesting and Meg, you mentioned Colorado and you think that they are now the first state served by an openly gay governor. One and then two.

Speaker 5:
Really, really quick, I was the summer minister at First Unitarian in Portland in ‘92. And Marilyn had said, “Please have a gathering for the gay people. I don’t know what they want, so find out what they want.” I have all these people over to the house I was borrowing, just filled up the whole place. And I said, “Marilyn wants to know what do you want?” And they all just said, “We don’t want anything. We’re so exhausted. We just want to be someplace, we’re so happy to be someplace where straight people don’t hate us.”

Keith Kron:
Well, and Lindi was talking about when they were deciding whether or not to work again after the first decision in California where they voted down equal marriage. It was like, do we want to raise this issue again now where if it fails again, will the impact it’ll have on a young generation of folks or do we want to wait a few more years? I mean, we’re talking about the toll on people and what some of these campaigns did was just unbelievable and amazing.

Speaker 6:
Meg reminded me that Sam Hall was one of the organizers for the No On Nine Campaign, and we hadn’t met before, now we’re very good friends. But that organizing meeting was held at our home in Salem and the place was packed. I could also add that one of our daughters, our firstborn was in high school at the time. She was very open and wearing her No On Nine button and had posters probably in her locker, I don’t know. People threw food at her. People pushed her as she walked down the hall. People wrote hateful things on the blackboard of classrooms before she got to the room.
In one case, her teacher erased what was on the blackboard before straightening the Bible that was on the corner of his desk. We ended up withdrawing her from school. I was on practically a first name basis with the principal who told me high school is a microcosm of the larger world, just essentially get over it. And we ended up withdrawing her from school and homeschooling her, and our congregation was so supportive. We had people coming up to us saying if she would like tutoring and chemistry or biology, or whatever, just count on us. It was it was very powerful.

Keith Kron:
It would be interesting to know how many of our congregations at some point in their history were the haven and their community of safety of a place where people could go and talk about their kids, where people could be out. Because I suspect there are a lot of congregations, there’s still congregations in conservative areas where that’s true. Judy.

Judy:
I have a response to that.

Keith Kron:
And then I’m going to have you tell a story and then we’ll break for lunch.

Judy:
I don’t know what a story, we have a story in mind. Okay. What I wanted to say about congregations being safe havens, we served a brand new congregation in central Pennsylvania, which is quite conservative religiously and politically. And there were many, and I would say many meaning like maybe four or five lesbian couples, who were aware that we existed but not sure if it was safe to come to our congregation. And I remember one couple after they joined telling us that they had driven over several times and cruised through the parking lot to see what the bumper stickers were on the cars. And they decided based on that observation that it probably would be okay if they came to our church.

Keith Kron:
So Judy, exact opposite story I want you to tell, tell about marching in the Pride Parade when you were in seminary.

Judy:
Oh, that was cool. Amanda was there too. I was friends with a lot of lesbians at Starr King and the Pride Parade was happening and it was even then, this is probably 1992 or ‘3, something like that. It was early. But even then, the Pride Parade in San Francisco was a big deal and there were a bunch of us who proudly wore our SLUTS t-shirt. They’re black and the teacher was black, and then it was pink lettering on it and it said ‘SLUTS’. And then on the back it said Seminary Lesbians Under Theological Stress
And it was very hot that day, so we marched for a while wearing our SLUTS t-shirt and then we all took our SLUTS t-shirt off and we just marched down Market Street in our bras. I don’t know if that’s what you were thinking of.

Keith Kron:
Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking of. It was like I heard this story in my first semester of seminary, and it’s like I’ve come to the right place. Anyway, thank you. We are past lunch break. Let me again thank you all. Please keep sharing your stories. Please keep putting stuff, things you remember up on the timelines. Let’s capture it and not forget it.

(applause)

Keith Kron

Keynote Presentation 1 by Keith Kron

Speaker 1:
This morning we start with Keith Kron, Director of the Transitions Office, providing an overview of this fascinating period of our history. Now, I’ve known Keith from the time he was director of what was then known as the office of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender concerns. You know, as the office has changed, the title has changed. It reflects, I think, our growing understanding of gender orientation and gender identity. I think for many of us it has been a stretching time and that’s good, right? Another blank, blank strip, no. Keith served as the head of that office from 1996 to 2010 that is an eternity and UU speak.

He has visited over 450 Unitarian Universalist congregations helping them work in Welcoming Congregations Beyond Categorical Thinking workshops and on public witness. So it was natural that John and I turned to Keith as we struggled to lead our congregation in Baltimore and work in Maryland to establish justice, compassion and respect for all people. It was to Keith we turned for advice when we decided after some mulling took us a while, that we were not going to sign any marriage licenses until everyone could get married. It was to Keith we turned to when we were going to retire from Baltimore and we wanted to be sure that work would continue. And has been to Keith and his current position as the director of the transitions office that John and I turned to when we decided to serve as interim ministers.

It should be no surprise then that we’ve turned to Keith when we started to imagine these conferences. He has been committed to these conferences, returned my calls, my emails promptly more than promptly, brainstormed with me, batted a few balls around metaphorically. I am honored and delighted to introduce to you Keith Kron.

Keith Kron:
It is good to be here with you all today. This morning I’m going to do what we’re doing in a couple of different phases. First I’m going to talk about some people and then we’ll do an exercise and then we’ll take a break and then I’m going to come back and talk about some events and then get you talking with questions and answers. And not because we’re at a tennis ranch because it actually happened. I’m going to start with this story from 10 years ago at the Bellingham Washington tennis club when I was living in Blaine, Washington. And I’d finished playing a tennis match and I was in a locker room, I’d gone into the sauna. There was one other man there, and he asked the inevitable question that you always get asked when you meet someone, “What do you do??

You and I know both know those who minister, you sit there and go, “Okay, what am I going to say about this? How much do I want to get into this with another naked man in the sauna?” I thought about it for a moment and I said, “Well, I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister.” He looked at me and he stopped and he went, “That’s interesting. I grew up a Unitarian Universalist in the state of Massachusetts.” And I went, “Where did you grow up?” He said, “Well, I went to the church in Winchester. And I remember it very clearly, it was a really interesting church. We even had a gay minister.” And I said, “What year was this?” And he said, “It was in the 1960s and we all knew we couldn’t talk about it, but everyone in the congregation knew that our minister who was Bob Storrs was gay and if he was going to keep his job, we had to keep quiet too.”

And this story was confirmed a little bit later when I was talking with Ralph Mero who said, “Oh yes, every minister who generally was known to be gay or lesbian in the 1940s and 1950s and the 1960s were fired by their congregation for being gay.” He said, “I even know of one congregation that fired its minister, but in an act of compassion so that the man would have a job, re-hired that man as their janitor.” This is what compassion was like at that particular time. One of the things that I want to impress on all of us is that each of these stories, each of these moments happened within a particular time, not only within Unitarian Universalism, but what was going on at the world as well. In fact, for a congregation even think of rehiring someone who they knew was gay at that particular time probably was as much of an act of compassion as could have been had in the 1940s or 1950s.

So I mean, we look at all of what’s happening in the world and it’s like, “What else is going on? What’s affecting that?” So much of what happened in terms of our history around our ministers, around the different events in Unitarian Universalism definitely happened in multiple contexts. They happened within the context of our faith and what was going on in the wider world. One of the other people who was trying to be a pioneer was a minister named Charles Vickery. Some of you may know him from the service committee. He eventually went to Mexico City to try and start a Unitarian Universalist there and to work with the Americans and the Mexicans on trying to create a safe space for gay and lesbian people. And in 1970 that was too soon. He couldn’t do it. It wasn’t allowed by the larger society and for the church to happen.

Now, how do I know the story? Well, Carl Seaburg wrote about it and it is interesting. Who are the people who remember these stories? Who are the people who tell these stories so that future generations remember them? One of the things that delighted me about this conference other than probably being one of the youngest people in the room, is that there is a lot of known history here that is going to disappear and go away as time goes on and on and who is going to remember the stories? Not only the big stories, but the little stories of what people had to do. When I was in seminary at Starr King in the mid 1990s, Alicia Forsey arranged for me to have lunch with a UU minister, a man named James Stoll. Who remembers at least the name James Stoll? He was the first minister to come out in Unitarian Universalism in 1969 at a youth conference in Colorado.

He’d been serving our congregation in the Tri-Cities area of Washington, Kennewick, Richland and Pascoe. This was two months after the Stonewall riots that he came out and two years after the UUA had said, “We don’t need to be promoting these issues.” There had been a survey done of Unitarian Universalists in 1967 that had said, “We don’t need to be promoting this. People can just not talk about this and be quiet.” And it was pretty overwhelming. So he came out to this conference, he was fired that year and never served another congregation again. He was, however, working as a chaplain in the city of San Francisco at a hospital which he had been doing. Now, he told me all of this story and so many more. And of course what I remember because it was a different time and era was the fact that he smoked and blew smoke in my face the entire time we were talking.

Still it was fascinating to be present to this kind of history because he talked about it was the youth who had encouraged him to do that. How often in our movement has it been the youth of our movement who have brought about the change, who have encouraged people to take risks that wouldn’t have happened at all. I mean, what was interesting as I was preparing to work on this, what I went and did is I pulled old UUA directories and just went down the list, whose name did I know, whose name did I recognize, who had told me a story about. And I started in 1961. Now, one of the fascinating things I did for 1961 was not only look at the people who were at least closeted at that particular time. But I also took account of the number of women who were serving in UU ministry at that time who were mostly Universalists and who were few and far between.

I noticed 12 women serving our faith in 1961. One of the things I was really noticing was how as a number of women increased in our movement throughout how much easier all of this became and the connections between the two. The number of ministers I saw who clearly were closeted, who would later come out at that particular time names like Ken McClean, Frank Robinson, Carl Whittier, Jack Loadman, Gene Navias, Dick Casey, Jay McElros who if you became a minister about the time I did, lived in Victoria, British Columbia, and was probably on the UUA chat more than any other minister that we had Deane Starr. It was in the 70s that some people began to not only become ministers, but it would eventually come out. Two weeks ago I was in Racine, Wisconsin where Tony Larsen was called in 1975 and just left after 43 years in the ministry.

That was a very interesting visit on so many levels. One of the things that fascinated me is that when he did come out in his congregation, the number of people who left. And there were people there when I was there two weeks ago or a month ago, who clearly remember the stories of the people who left. Then trying to figure out what are we going to do now that we are at this particular moment. He also on at least one Christmas Eve service, they had a ritual where people came up and wrote something down which Tony read. And at least one year during his ministry, he had to read something so homophobic that it made the entire congregation gasp and yet he felt like he had to read it. The other thing that, that story makes me think about are the context in which people served their ministry. What did people have to do in order to be a UU minister and be gay at a particular time?

One of the things that I was constantly aware of was how often or how little people actually got to tell their story in the 70s and 80s as an openly gay or lesbian and eventually bi and trans minister. There would be people in our congregations who would count how many times someone even used the words gay or lesbian. I’ll talk more about that later on. One of my favorite Tony Larsen story though is as he became out, as it became more public, as his congregation became deeper and deeper allies, Tony was very fond at pulling jokes on people in his congregation and doing this in kind of safe but embarrassing ways. Often these events would happen at GA, Diana Pavao, who is a long time member of the congregation would say Tony was notorious for being in a crowded elevator at GA, looking at one of his congregants getting this big grin on his face where the congregate knew they were in trouble and saying, “Well, how long have you known your mother is a lesbian?”

To which the congregant had no response whatsoever and then Tony would get off the elevator. The things you had to do to survive. Even at the UUA, one of the interesting pieces of history is the connections not only around gender and sexual orientation, but at race and sexual orientation. You see this in the creation of what would first become the Office of Gay Affairs, which lasted for less than a year and then became the Office of Gay Concerns. It was modeled after the Office of Black Affairs at the time. There was trying to be consistency and then it changed. But one of the reasons we had an Office of Gay Affairs Concerns, Lesbian and Gay Concerns and on and on and on, happened because of the walkout of the African Americans in 1969 when that happened at the General Assembly in Cleveland.

The UUA when a resolution came forward from Dick Nash, UU minister in California, one of the original pioneers within the movement, trying to do this work, started what would eventually evolve into Interweave, was when he began pushing for this and the idea of the office. The UUA one didn’t have the money but people voted for the office because they were afraid of another walkout. And that was probably one of the reasons why this started, why we had this particular movement. Now, we voted for an office in 1973. We didn’t have an office until 1974 with funding and we didn’t have a director until 1976. For the first at least 15 years or so I’m looking at Meg and Jay because they actually lived this, the office was only half time. People would find other work. Bob Wheatley was the director of the office of aging. When he was the director, Jay tried to be employed by what was it, when now called Interweave for a while, UULGC.

We eventually were able to move it to full time, but the first director was not even a UU minister. The woman from the National Organization of Women, a woman named Arlie Scott and Nancy Hazelitt who was my predecessor is the administrator for the Transitions Office would tell a story that she would get on the elevator at the UUA in 1976 and people would walk off because they didn’t want to be in the same elevator as a lesbian. This is a part of our history. She wasn’t invited out to a congregation and tip for a year and a half. The first minister to invite her out to speak actually to a congregation was Ken McClean. And it is interesting to see how all of this evolved. There was a vote in 1974 to try and take the office away at General Assembly and it survived a close vote.

So we had a lot of trepidation and we do have a lot of liking to pat ourselves on the back, but this was a real struggle and struggle for people. They were slowly, again, like Tony, the people who began to come in who weren’t out but would begin at some point in their careers to come out at their congregation. Bob Shaibly, Jody Shipley, Joy Atkinson and one of my interim ministers, Tom Payne, the African American man who came out as bisexual at a certain point but most of their careers they weren’t out as they were serving. There was this group, at least two of them were here in around the turn of the 1970s, 1980s in between that time, 78, 82, Barb and Ann, you’re here, Doug Strong, Mark Belletini. All a part of a group of students at Starr King who were wrestling with, how are we going to do ministry and be gay or lesbian.

It was Diane Miller who did the first move and hired an out young minister named Mark Belletini in San Francisco to come and work with them for a year. Doug would then go to Maine and work with Eastport and then Ann and Barb would start their careers after that. But it was a time of real moment and time of real figuring that out. Also at this time was the person who would become my introduction to Unitarian Universalist minister Charlie Kast, who went to Lexington, Kentucky. Some of the search committee knew some of them didn’t figure it out. It was still a time where if you couldn’t figure it out, that was actually preferable by some people. But he came to Lexington and I happened to meet him one night. It was a month after I had come out and one of the little bars in Lexington, of which there were four, I was sitting, I’d gotten to known a couple of people in the bar and Tommy, this guy said, “You talk like a friend of mine and I want you to meet him, his name is Charlie.”

So he brings Charlie Kast over to me. We talked for a minute and I think, “Oh wow. Not only is there a gay minister, but he’s out on a bar on a Saturday night before he has to preach.” This is so different from the Southern Baptist Church I grew up in. I may have to go and see what this church is about. So I told them I was going to come and visit the church. I showed up the next day and the church was celebrating its 35th anniversary. And we ended the service after Charlie talked about the history of the church and the history of liberal religion in Lexington, Kentucky and we went outside and we gave the church building a hug. Now, we’d never done anything like that in the Southern Baptist Church I grew up in. But I was so impressed that a faith could actually be different than that, that I ended up staying and became a member within a month. And a lot of that is because of Charlie’s presence in the community.

These were so many of the pioneers, the people who could really not talk about themselves but were still expected to be the ministers of congregations and could and could not tell the stories of their lives. And that summer that I joined, this was 1985, one of our members went off to General Assembly and came back after having attended a UULGC meeting that literally sort of changed the history, even more of the Lexington church. Because one of our members had gone and heard a presentation by Lucy Hitchcock. Who at the time was serving as the minister of our congregations in Fargo and Bismarck, North Dakota. She told the story of the work of her work in North Dakota was… and I mentioned this back there on the back table was the work was for the gay, lesbian, bi and soon to be trans people was to become ordinary in our congregation and realizing how profound that would be for our congregation.

And that sort of became the work of the Lexington Kentucky Church with what at the time was pretty remarkable because there were actually within five years there were actually five out people in the Lexington Kentucky Church. And you have to understand at that time, most of our congregation had the capacity for one out gay or lesbian or bi trans person in the 1980s and more made them nervous. But so often it was the ministers who are slowly coming out, going out into search and in the process another pioneer really worth talking about, who many of you remember very fondly. Dorothy used his words last night, was Mark DeWolfe, who had a huge impact in our moment. I remember going to my first General Assembly in 1987 Little Rock, Arkansas. The hotel room was $39 a night and there were like 1400 people who were a part of that particular General Assembly. And Mark was one of those popular speakers there because of the work that he was doing in the Toronto area and its church in Mississauga.

It would be the next year later that he would come back and announce to people who knew that he was also living with HIV and then would pass away. But his impact in our denomination was significant for what he did. The 1987 GA was also critical and I’ll talk more about this in the next section. Because that was where we passed the resolution where we had to do some kind of protest anytime we visited a state that had sodomy laws. And that’s its own story, which we’ll get into more. But we passed that in large part from having decided to not go to Phoenix the next year, because the state didn’t honor Martin Luther King Jr’s holiday. So the connections again are significant. We also had ministers during this time who had never once wanted to talk about their identity.

I talked with a congregant recently who was a longtime member of one of our congregations. I won’t say who to protect the minister’s name, but they said she never once talked about being a lesbian the entire time we served. And we all knew it, but she didn’t feel like she could. And how many of our ministers did just exactly that in order to do that. I was doing Beyond Categorical Thinking in the late 90s at first church and in Houston, Texas. The late Mary Harrington, my good friend and classmate at Starr King was the interim assistant minister at the time. She said, “Bob has never once talked to the congregation in my entire year here about being gay.” And the number of people who made that kind of sacrifice to only share part of their lives or not share their lives at all in order to make it.

In the mid 80s, we also had different kinds of folks who really sort of shook things up. This was the time of the AIDS epidemic. It was a large part of some of the work that J paid attention to. Joe Chauncey, who is a chaplain in Atlanta, primarily doing AIDS chaplaincy work. Several of us who were at Starr King in the late 80s and early 90s did our CPE at San Francisco general hospital on the AIDS ward. And it was also a time when we stood up and took notice. But so much of the work that that Jay did, and I’m going to let you tell more of this story later in your… and you should talk to him about it, was around getting the Welcoming Congregation work going. That happened in the mid 80 with the late 1980s common vision committee trying to put together work. I’ll tell a few stories about that. Lesley Phillips was the chair of the common visions task force and we made it through.

It wasn’t always easy to make it through at that particular time. I remember that several of us went… Jay’s laughing, he remembers. Several of us went to Boston to sort of talk about what this program could be and we met at Arlington street church and somehow again, we made it through the workshop and put together a report that would become the Welcoming Congregation. We spent more time arguing about whether or not we should be Welcoming Congregation or Welcoming Church than anything else. There was some conversation about whether should we open and affirming, should we be affirming, should be welcoming. But the real conversation was about church or congregation. It left three of us the next morning, Helen Bishop, Joan Mason and myself who came up with what became the 15 guidelines and action steps for a Welcoming Congregation and Jay preached the sermon.

That’s literally what I remember from that weekend, other than I stayed in three different houses on three different nights because we were all doing home hospitality. But we began to see more changes and more women came into the movement and more lesbian women came into the movement and were out and that had a real significant impact. Dorothy, Gretchen, Terry Kime, Liz Benjamin, Nancy Arnold, so many people who would come and go and serve. Annie Holmes, Barbara Dunbar-Burke, Barbara, so many people who would get out and sort of reduce the stereotype and make it more of a multiple story as opposed to a single story because so often people were reduced to that single story, whatever it was. It was during this time and again, you should talk to Barbara and Ann. I remember talking with Ann one summer in Lake Geneva about what had happened in Community Church when they had tried to become called as the associate ministers at community in New York City. And the vote failed because people who had not been regular attenders but were still members of the church came in and voted against their call.

The interesting thing about that, I don’t know if this will just make you sigh or give you a new perspective Community Church just had a vote on whether to do a developmental ministry or to go into search. A group of people who weren’t regular attenders came in and basically switched the vote so that they would go into a regular settled search as opposed to the congregation had been leaning toward doing developmental ministry. It’s interesting what stays in our systems and where the power is. But this also happened to Terry Kime in Massachusetts, I believe it was Plymouth. I look at Diane, because-

Terry Kime, she’d been serving in Erie, Pennsylvania. I believe she’d been… Doris Hunter told me this story… Had been the candidate I believe in Plymouth, Massachusetts and had also not gotten a call vote because she hadn’t gotten the right percentage in there. It was just a reminder because we were always patting ourselves on the back because we were half a step ahead of society so therefore we were better. And it was easy for us to forget that we had real work to do and we’re still doing it. It was in the early 90s that Amanda Aikman won literally every sermon contest one could win. Jory Agate started at the youth office. Meg Riley came in after Scott Alexander.

Meg again can tell more of her story than I can, but it was Meg’s work in the office that really sort of shifted our work beyond what was going on within our congregation to us. Look at what’s going on outside in the wider world, particularly in regards to what the far right was doing. And helped create a shift that would launch what we would do around social justice and being willing to be a voice. Which took a long period of time for us to really be able to do. It was during this time, I look at… Dee where are you? There you are. Dee was at Starr King teaching a class on gay, lesbian and bisexual spiritualities. That was well attended in which people from other seminaries had to take for not credit because they couldn’t have it on their transcripts. Amanda we’ll have time for questions.

Yeah, but it’s being recorded so…

Amanda:
I just want to show you what the… You could tell who was coming to Dee’s class. These priests from the Catholic seminaries they would come down the sidewalk looking just like this.

Keith Kron:
It was very scary for so many people from other denominations. And when I taught the class a couple of years later, these first questions to me, first statement to me was, ask Rebecca to come, has she come out to you yet? And it was like, “Really? Oh, wow.” But there are all these stories that weren’t told and weren’t known. It was when Dee speaking of work that we still had to do was doing her internship at West Side in Knoxville that she had to take her children to Tennessee Valley because they were treated better there than they were at our home congregation in West Side. Still so much work that we had to do. We had Lesley Phillips as a first out trans minister. Those of us who knew her remember her more as a Philadelphia lawyer turned minister than we did trans. Then there was a woman at Starr King named Erinn Melby who wanted to be a chaplain.

Who when I was working in the Starr King office, for those of you who knew Bob Kimball, she wanted him desperately to speak at her ordination and it was the most… What’s the word I want? I’ve never seen him so avoidant of anything in particular other than not wanting to speak at her ordination service. It was after this time that we started having more and more African American and people of color ministers starting to come out, Carlton, Elliot Smith, Alma Crawford. People who would lead the way, Cheryl Walker, other folks who would join our movement. I remember it was about 10 years later when I was at Lake Geneva and it was how Howell Lind who had suggested to both Barb and Ann, you all need to think about doing co-ministry again. It was in the summer and we were still all waiting to hear the vote on pins and needles was had this happened in Evanston, had you all been called.

I remember being at camp and there was a cheer that went up when we learned that it had actually happened. Because I can’t remember speakers before or after that, but I think it was after. But you were well known by everyone at camp and much loved. Also in 1989, those of you who are at General Assembly may remember a somewhat contentious conversation at General Assembly at Yale about the Welcoming Congregation. We are talking about supporting gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights of passage. And people were like, “What’s a bisexual rights of passage? What does that mean for our congregations?” And it was quite a time. It was also then there had been various previous efforts that we really solidified and launched from the association Beyond Categorical Thinking program which was directed at congregations. This is where we passed the resolution and saying we were not going to allow discrimination as part of the search process. And this program was created and officially launched at General Assembly.

Those of you who remember Jacqui James who was also working on the hymn book at the time, was the person who oversaw this program. It was at this time that a really wonderful man, many of you will remember, Dick Hasty came out, had served for a long time at our congregation in Portland Maine. Had gotten divorced, had come out and he was one of the lead trainers in Beyond Categorical Thinking in the early years. And often he would go to a congregation and people would say, “Well, you could be our minister.” And it got to the point where he had to figure out where could I not do a BCT as he was trying to find a place to serve. Because once you had done the training, all of a sudden you were ineligible to serve. He was eventually called to Springfield, Illinois where he finished out his-

Massachusetts, Springfield Massachusetts. Where, he made a difference. But this program was intentional about and is intentional about work around helping our congregations look at the biases they have towards ministers of color, ministers who now identify as bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender. Transgender didn’t happen until the late 90s and ministers with disabilities. And now it’s expanded even beyond that to talk about mental health issues, which we really didn’t talk about. In the first year that we had Beyond Categorical Thinking, seven of our congregations in search, there were like 45 that year elected to do BCT because they thought they might need it. Today, just to give you some sort of a balance, it’s almost at 100%. I’ll talk more about that later. It was in the late 90s that we had Pam Langston-Daly serving our congregation in Aptos who transitioned, was in the process of transitioning from Pam to Paul. Pam was not able to survive the transition and still be the minister at the time. It was just simply too much for the congregation to be able to weather.

But that in some ways is not atypical. I mean if you got divorced at that particular time, you were pretty much counseled, you’re not going to be able to survive at this particular time. Our congregations could only handle so much change and we have seen that change. Sean Dennison and Laurie Auffante, two ministers who also came into our movement identifying as transgender. Sean we still know, Laurie we have basically lost to all of that. And so much of what happens to the people who go first is very different from the next generation. I’m sure if you were to talk with so many of our women or people of color or gay, lesbian, bi people with physical disabilities, the people who were the first people to go through had a much harder time and had a much harder time escaping being seen as anything other than one identity. But these are the people who helped create the way so that…

I mean, my favorite story so far from this year’s search is we have a congregation looking at a minister who uses gender neutral pronouns, which even five years ago they wouldn’t have looked at this person. And the chair of the search committee said, “At our last meeting, we spent 10 minutes practicing, they, them, theirs.” I mean, this is how quickly in the last time, but it was all set up by people who were there so many years ago and then we had different kinds of pioneers. People who all of a sudden were treated a little differently. Rob Hardies after a year in Northern California being called to All Souls DC. Jean Pupke after serving a couple of small congregations in Washington going and working with Richmond. The next group of in particular people of color, women of color who came in, Marta Valentin, Sofia Betancourt, not only the first woman president, but the first queer president we’ve had of our association. Alicia Ford, Cheryl Walker, Jacqueline Duhart.

Jacqueline Duhart is the first ever contract minister named minister emeritus of a congregation in Oakland. In the early 2000s, we saw our first folks who identify as polyamorous beginning to enter the ministry and doing that particular work. We also saw Cynthia Kane, who was one of our chaplains struggling with how out she could be until the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It had actually gotten to the point where she had actually married Drew Johnston for a period of time, basically to give her cover and to help him too. And we really got to see some things change as different events happened in history. I’ll talk more about this in the next half, but when the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws was a big moment. When we ended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. When civil unions came to Vermont. When marriage equality came to First Massachusetts, and then to other places, things that really shifted the barrier.

I think so much of the work that happened in Unitarian Universalism that then I’ll tell a story in the second half about Vermont was led by Unitarian Universalist ministers who were willing to be brave, willing to be out, willing to do things that hadn’t really been done before in so many places. So I’m going to stop for questions about this in a minute. But I’d like to do an exercise just to really sort of contextualize and to get us thinking about where we fit into the movement and how that fit in. So what I would like for you to do, starting in this corner with 1950 and over to this corner, maybe up here to present day. Line up in chronological order as best you can about when you became a Unitarian Universalist. So if it was 1950 earlier start here. People who are newer start here.

Joe, what year are you Joe? Joe Weaver. What year are you? All right, let me try someone else. Dorothy, what year are you?

Dorothy:
81.

Keith Kron:
81. Dee, what year are you?

Dee:
79.

Participant:
76.

Keith Kron:
76. All right. This side of the room right here I want 1950s and 1960s. 1970s and 1980s down to that corner.

Participant:
Okay,

Keith Kron:
1990s, 2000s, 2010s.

Keith Kron:
You’re born into it. What year?

Participant:
41.

Participant:
46.

Participant:
42

Keith Kron:
Jim? What year?

Keith Kron:
So Unitarian or Universalist? All right. Well, it’s interesting for this to happen, it’s actually what I was hoping was going to happen. Ann what year?

Ann:
93.

Keith Kron:
93. Jane what year?

Jane:
94.

Keith Kron:
Addae, what year?

Addae:
2004.

Keith Kron:
Now think about when you either knew because the people at this end all were born…

Keith Kron:
But I mean all of these people were born Unitarian. I didn’t see, any anyone born a Universalist? One. Then where is 1970?

Participant:
70, 71.

Keith Kron:
70, 71. Because 70 and 71 is the first time we made a public statement in support of gay, lesbian and bisexual people. I mean, for those of you who were before, I’m sure you remember this just wasn’t talked about in any kind of —

Participant:
We were kids. We weren’t paying attention. I went to AYS in 1973.

Keith Kron:
But that was 73. I mean the Stonewall riots, and as we celebrate the 50th anniversary, that was the moment when we went from Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in general to all of a sudden this is something that we’re beginning to talk about, we’re beginning to explore. How many of you went as a kid through “about your sexuality” back in the 1970s?

Keith Kron:
How many of you talked about your sexuality? How many of you’ve taught our whole lives? Interesting. Because it was interesting that it was once again, it was our youth who really started things off for us. How many of you think about the first time you met a UU minister who was openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?

Participant:
How many of us think about it?

Keith Kron:
How many of you remember the first time you learned of a minister who was gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender? Because often that is such a key moment in so many people’s understandings of when things began to shift in terms of what our faith could be. We’ll do an exercise in the next moment that asks you some more questions about when you learn just about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folks in general. How many of you went to a General Assembly in the 1960s? How about in the 1970s? 1980s? 1990s? 2000s?

Keith Kron:
Anyone there at the 1970 General Assembly where we did the first resolution in support? Carol, Diane. The UUA and the UCC both voted that year to support non-discrimination toward I believe the actual word in the resolution is homosexuals and bisexuals and yeah.

Participant:
And bisexuals.

Keith Kron:
Yeah. And then in 1984 we had a resolution in 77, basically against Anita Bryant, but in 1984 was when we voted to support civil unions. Who is there at that General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio? 84. Some of you may remember that this came about because there were a lot of ministers who were wanting to do ceremonies of union and were having fights with their congregations about could they do them, where could they do them? Could they happen on church property? And the resolution came at the request to support ministers doing that. Who was there in 87 in Little Rock? That’s where we voted on a sodomy law protest, which I’ll talk about in the next one. 89 when we voted on Welcoming Congregation and non-discrimination for ministers. 96 when I know that Dee was on stage, but all the people, in supportive equal marriage and all of our ministers who were in same sex relationships were brought up on stage. How many of you were up on stage?

Participant:
In the choir.

Keith Kron:
You were in the choir. You’ve always been in multiple choirs Gretchen, I mean. So this work, how many of you were ministers serving a congregation that went through the Welcoming Congregation process? Sometimes it would have been sometimes 91 Brewster was certified as the worst Welcoming Congregation.

Participant:
First not worst.

Participant:
The worst?

Keith Kron:
The first. The first Welcoming Congregation, when I come into the office, there were 57 Welcoming Congregations that had been certified. Today it’s something like 87% of Unitarian Universalists go to a Welcoming Congregation. I think we only have two or three congregations, over 100 people that aren’t now.

Participant:
It was after we were called to Evanston that they did the work they’d signed on to be one, but hadn’t done the work. And Linda McPlant may her name be praised got people to actually do the work and get certified. Sometimes you just got to know what to do.

Keith Kron:
Right. Well and so often congregations would do the process because of one or two people in the congregation. I remember working with a congregation in Duxbury where it was a PFLAG mom who was insistent she was going to pass this on for her late son. She was going to make sure the congregation did that. And fortunately she was a matriarch in the church so she could make it happen but it was because that’s also a dynamic too. Okay. You all can go back to your seats now. We’re going to take a break and a couple of minutes, but I want to get people and we’ll have more time in the next section. So don’t worry about it, but about anything I said or any memory that came up that you want to take, we’ll take about five minutes for questions. We have a microphone, that since this is being recorded I encourage everyone to speak into. Dwayne.

Duane:
Just a brief story Keith mentioned Erinn Melby who was a member and affiliated minister at the church in Palo Alto where I did my internship and then served as sabbatical fill in the next year. She was in the VA hospital. I went to visit her and brought flowers and she told me later that some of the other patients were remarking on her boyfriend who had brought those wonderful flowers to her. It was just so complex. There was no way to process all of that.

Keith Kron:
Judy.

Judy:
Keith you mentioned, but I really want to lift up an emphasize AYS because I think, and you’re going to be hearing, I’m going to be talking about Gene Navias tomorrow, who was one of the people who started AYS. But he said that AYS really provided a turning point for the UUA’s attitude toward GLBT people because AYS was so liberal and the youth were pushing this.

Keith Kron:
Well, I also think that, that one of the people to really talk about, and since you’re talking about him. Gene Navias really was working behind the scenes, going to the UUA in the late 1960s and doing the work that he did. Before he died, he became a Beyond Categorical Thinking trainer. And in typical Gene’s style, I literally spent an hour and a half with him one day on the phone so he’d get every piece of the workshop just right. Was maybe the most exhausting one-on-one training I’ve ever done but he was going to do this in a particular way. I think it was that exactness that really helped in the creation of about your sexuality and how it was moving out. It was almost like we have to do it in a particular way, otherwise it might fail. That was so much of the attitude that was going on at a particular time. I also think that, just simply having…

I mean, it used to be and how many of you remember… I didn’t think to talk about this in my notes, but you remember when Concord made national news, Bryant Gumbel for showing, I mean, it used to be that you had to have a parent session, have them work through things, show them everything that was going to be in the curriculum, get both parental approvals. Concord only did it for one parent and Bryant Gumbel and Bobbie Nelson was on the show talking about it. But I think because the way the program was set up and the way that the parents sessions was set up, it almost invariably led them to talking about, gay, lesbian, bisexual orientation issues as a way to really be introduced to the program. One of the stories that I didn’t tell was that there was a woman in Lexington, Kentucky Church who was determined to diversify the church. This was back in the 1980s, a woman named Barbara Vance who died a few years later of cancer.

She was the one who brought back the story of Lucy Hitchcock. But she said two things, one, “I’m resigning my position on the board so that you can be the first openly gay person in the church to serve on the church board because we needed to diversify it that way.” And two, “I’m going to make you teach AYS this year.” I was a 25-year-old student and a teacher at the time but I was actually really quite delighted to do both of that. The first session we did with the parents, it was like, this is what we ended up talking about because this is what really sparked the conversation. Meg, you wanted to say something?

Meg:
You lifted up Jim Stoll coming out in LRY conference, but I just really wanted to lift up LRY a little bit more. At that conference on the exec of LRY at the time were Wayne Arnason, Rob Eller Isaacs homophobia became so central to the whole youth group because they love Jim Stoll. So often it is the love of one person that changes things. But when youth love you, they really love you. I just think, I don’t know if anybody was in LRY at that time, but I think that LRY really deserves a huge thank you for the denomination moving.

Keith Kron:
I think that’s very true. Are there other questions? Barbara.

Barbara:
Little story talking about AYS. When I took AYS when I was 13 or 14 and I so remember the section on same sex relations, which was a big part of the AYS curriculum. And the reason I remember it is because we were looking at the slide show and up popped a picture of my father. And of course it was… but it’s not as bad as it sounds because it turns out that in Massachusetts when they were creating AYS, they took, they used the Unitarians as the nonsexual pictures. And what they showed was a picture of two men, one of them happened to be my father with their faces pressed together, very close. And it was a closeup like this and you were supposed to respond, how did that make you feel to see these two men so close together. Then it pulls out and you see they’re at a bar and it’s one of those sort of jolly guys at the bar picture. But it’s of course stayed with me for lots of reasons.

Keith Kron:
But how did it make you feel Barbara?

Barbara:
How did it make me feel. It was memorable, I’ll tell you.

Keith Kron:
One more question and then we’ll take a break. Craig.

Craig:
I’m curious about the evolution of our seminaries of Meadville and Starr King when they’re accepting students who are openly gay and the story behind that, I’m just curious.

Keith Kron:
Well, others may have more of a story here. I just remember him talking about this with Ron Cook at Starr King when I was there. He did say, Jim Stoll never talked about this when he was there and could talk about it. Even though he said as a student it wouldn’t have surprised him and he thought at least Bob Kimball would have been supportive at that particular time. Starr King was such a radical place for so long. I mean, I arrived at Starr King and there were stories of nude chapels and for a while, anything goes. One of the things that would be a really sort of interesting to talk about in general are the effects of the late 60s and 70s on Unitarian Universalism. I mean, because that and not always positive ways. There were some positive things, but some of the stories of indiscretion, misconduct, hot tubs.

Keith Kron:
Yeah. And sort of a reaction to what was going on in the world. And gee, it can be different still profoundly affects our congregations 40 years later.

Participant:
.. wasn’t only UUA seminaries.

Keith Kron:
Pardon?

Keith Kron:
It wasn’t only UUA seminaries, no, no. But the one story, this has nothing to do with your question Craig, but Roger Jones, who many of you know, good friend of mine we had decided in the early 1990s at the Dallas ULGC convocation that we were probably headed towards seminary at some point. It was at 1993 convocation that he told me because you didn’t have email then, you didn’t have anything. You just picked up the phone and wrote letters. Told me, “Guess what? I’m going to seminary, I’m going to meet the Lombard.” And I went, “Guess what? I’m going to seminary, I’m going to Starr King.” And both of our experiences there, because we would see each other, we’d room together at GA.

Keith Kron:
I mean by the time we got to the early 90s, it just was not paid attention to in the ways that it had been in the 70s and 80s. It had been no big deal. And for those of you who went to seminary in the 70s and 80s, your stories are different. I really think the story of Barb and Mark, it’s really one of the pioneering seminary stories that we have in our movement, Lindi was a little later.

Participant:
Anne Heller.

Keith Kron:
Anne Heller. But this is really your all story to tell because you remember most of it and all I got was secondhand information from various folks, mainly from Mark actually as he would talk about what it was like to be then. And Ron said that when Mark was in seminary, he was just terrified that how is he going to be a whole person and yet, how could he be a minister at the same time. Would this just going to dominate his ministry to the point where he couldn’t do anything else about that, about talk about this.

Keith Kron:
Mark DeWolf.

Keith Kron:
No, it was Mark DeWolfe and it was one of his struggles. But even in the 90s, I can’t remember Ron Cook talking to Doddie Stone. Doddie, where are you? Talking and preaching class. And I remember Ron saying to me at one point, be careful how much you talk about this because that’s what we had to do to survive. Let’s take a break. We will come back at 11:10 and talk about some of the key events in Unitarian Universalism and the ministers who were part of that. Oh, it’s 11:45 sorry, I misread the clock because I don’t have on my glasses. Let’s come back at 11:00.

Dee Graham and Dorothy Emerson

Interview with Dee Graham and Dorothy Emerson

Dee Graham:
I’m Reverend Dee Graham and this is …

Dorothy Emerson:
I’m Reverend Dorothy Emerson.

Dee Graham:
We’ve both been involved in both the Interweave and Lambda Ministers over the time of our ministries. So Dorothy, you were in before me.

Dorothy Emerson:
So, I went to my first general assembly in 1983 and I was introduced to the UU Lesbian and Gay Caucus. Then in 1984, I attended a meeting where I found out two things that made me not exactly happy. First of all, the group was dominated by gay men. There were very few lesbians involved. I found out that their major agenda item was that they were going to put forth a resolution to support ministers who were performing gay marriages or services of union, I think, they were called. Yeah, that’s right. It was services of union.

Dorothy Emerson:
I had been in a group of women the year before in ’83 who had felt very strongly that the biggest thing we needed to work on was homophobia. We needed to develop some programs to help women’s groups and to help congregations address homophobia, so that gay people would feel more comfortable being part of the congregation.

Dorothy Emerson:
So the idea of marriage to me in ’84 seemed kind of irrelevant, because as a lesbian and as a lesbian feminist, my attitude toward marriage was it was a patriarchal institution, and it was certainly not something that we wanted to replicate in our relationships. So, who cared was basically my attitude.

Dorothy Emerson:
So I’m kind of a out there person. So, I raised the issue and of course I was shot down right away about, no, no, no, it’s really important. Ministers need their congregations to support them in doing these things, because they’re starting to get asked about it. So that part went ahead, the resolution was successful. But at the same meeting I found out that they were also planning a gathering, which they were calling a Unitarian Universalist lesbian and gay convocation.

Dorothy Emerson:
It was the first major gathering of UU gay folk, gay and lesbian folks from all over the country. It was in Houston, Texas, it was going to be in February of 1985. Well, I was horrified to learn that they were going to have a meeting coming up to do the planning for this and there weren’t any lesbians that were going to be at the meeting. So, I made enough of a stink about it that they invited me to be at the meeting.

Dee Graham:
That’s right.

Dorothy Emerson:
The person who was one of the co-coordinators or was the coordinator of the caucus at that point was Doug Strong. He told me later that he was not at general assembly, apparently, but he told me later that he was coming to Boston to this meeting to do battle with Dorothy Emerson. Later, we did become friends. But it was a battle and I had to fight for everything.

Dorothy Emerson:
One of the things that was really important in those days was that there’d be women’s space and a woman’s caucus, and they would not approve the idea of it. So we actually got to the convocation and women said, “Where’s the women’s space?” We created our own space and made a petition to have that at future gatherings.

Dee Graham:
Yeah.

Dorothy Emerson:
But I was successful at one thing. I was able to get a lesbian keynote speaker, Judy Grahn, who had just published the book, “Another Mother Tongue.” So that was a big success. But that meeting in Houston was actually kind of the beginning of the real grassroots widespread movement within Unitarian Universalism.

Dee Graham:
It really benefited me, because I didn’t get to go to a convo until some years later in Dallas. But at that point, there was a woman’s space, the entertainment was mixed. I appreciated what you had done, even not knowing you at the time, because I was able to actually actively take part and later become part of the board and part of the committee that, eventually down the line, it was in the ’90s, we made the change from UULGC and more letters to come, to Interweave, which had been a Doug Strong idea. I was reluctant about it, because I didn’t want to lose any component. However, that was the most practical solution.

Dorothy Emerson:
Yeah, and Interweave actually appeared as a name in 1985, but it wasn’t voted on. I found out later, one of the reasons it wasn’t accepted earlier was because Bob Wheatley did not like the idea, he wanted to call the group Gala.

Dee Graham:
Oh, okay.

Dorothy Emerson:
Because that was, yeah, that was in use at Ferry Beach.

Dee Graham:
Oh, okay.

Dorothy Emerson:
So, I have a feeling his influence —

Dee Graham:
And Ferry Beach was a gay men’s retreat that happened —

Dorothy Emerson:
Originally, it was supposed to be gays and lesbians.

Dee Graham:
Oh.

Dorothy Emerson:
But that’s one of the things that often doesn’t get talked about in this, is that there really were some pretty big differences between lesbian culture and gay men’s culture. It wasn’t exactly a natural alliance. This is also the height of the women’s movement and women and men were also … just straight women and men were having their differences and women were fighting to get onto boards and into leadership, which is still an ongoing issue.

Dee Graham:
Yeah, yeah.

Dorothy Emerson:
So within that context, you kind of might take straight men and women and put them in the middle here, and then put gay men over here and lesbians over here. So they were almost further apart than men and women who slept together.

Dee Graham:
Although, I think there’s a subtle difference here and that is that I came out as a lesbian before I discovered feminism. In those days, we would say, “Well, a lesbian can be the best friend to men, especially gay man, because we’re not competing for anything.”

Dorothy Emerson:
Actually, I think the more natural alliance is lesbians and straight men.

Dee Graham:
Well perhaps, but in those … well, they’re competing for the same women sometimes.

Dorothy Emerson:
Well, sometimes we are.

Dee Graham:
But I think that beginning perspective made the whole difference going into the women’s movement, of I didn’t have relationships with men in the same kind of power structure that a woman coming from a heterosexual norm would have, so it was kind of just a little different. Not that it was any less in the power structure, any less powerful, but it was just a difference. So when I went to general assembly in Hollywood, California, which I guess was 1990.

Dorothy Emerson:
’91.

Dee Graham:
’91, okay.

Dorothy Emerson:
Hollywood —

Dee Graham:
Oh, it was Hollywood, Florida.

Dorothy Emerson:
You mean, Hollywood, Florida.

Dee Graham:
That’s right. Oh, wow. So Hollywood, Florida, I had been accepted to Starr King School for the ministry and I was on my way to seminary. So for the first time, someone, and I think it was Doug Strong, slipped a little piece of paper into my hand and they said … it had this room number, 10:00. I’m like, “Oh, what is this?” But I’d been warned this might happen. So, I took this little piece of paper and I walked up to that room at 10:00 and knocked on the door, like at a speakeasy.

Dee Graham:
I go in and here are some of these prominent men that we heard about today, as our gay pioneers, really, and a few women. But it’s the Lambda Ministers Caucus. Some of these men were married, it was very secretive. You really had to be in the circle to get to go to this. I guess because I just popped in as this out lesbian from the start, they were ushering me into the deeper circles. Later, we worked with Lambda Ministers, where we got a grant and we could do planning and we were out and open and involved in —

Dorothy Emerson:
Yeah, we actually did workshops.

Dee Graham:
Yes.

Dorothy Emerson:
We actually did workshops and we had a newsletter. I came in somewhere along that line. I came in and they made me treasurer at the first meeting I went to and then they handed me a box. It had checks in it, some of which were three years old. So of course they couldn’t do cash, but I had to sort all that out. Then later I became co-coordinator. I think I might’ve been one of the last, the last co-coordinator, because by … well, that was … so that was really the 90s.

Dee Graham:
Well, technically, I’m still the head of Lambda Ministers, but I tried to turn it over to someone else two GA’s ago, and no one would take it. So we exist on paper, but the young people don’t want to be just Lambda Ministers, they now want to be the, it’s, what is it? The queer professionals —

Dorothy Emerson:
Yeah.

Dee Graham:
Something. So, it’s there for further development, but —

Dorothy Emerson:
Well, it fulfilled a very important function, I’m sure, prior to either of us being involved, because it was a safe space where people who really seriously could not come out. I don’t even know when it started, that would be the thing to find out.

Dee Graham:
I think one of the products that remains is that they try intentionally to have now among good offices, people, gay and lesbian specialists. That was one of our biggest requests as a minister of organization within the UU Ministers Association. So we had that.

Dorothy Emerson:
Well, in 1998 when I was co-coordinator, we got a grant from the UU Ministers Association, the larger ministers association, to have sort of, I guess it was kind of a brainstorming meeting. Helen Bishop facilitated.

Dee Graham:
Okay.

Dorothy Emerson:
Helen Bishop is a lesbian, but not a minister, but she’s been a consultant and a coach to ministers. In fact, at one point, she was my coach and very helpful, very helpful. Lynn Ungar was there and it was at Unity Church where Jay Deacon was. So Jay Deacon was there and we met in 1998. We talked about all the different things that the Guild should be doing and could do. But the problem was that all the lesbian and gay ministers that were around, and by then, I don’t even think there were bisexual or trans yet, or at least not out. But it was mostly lesbian and gay ministers. Nobody had any time.

Dee Graham:
Right.

Dorothy Emerson:
Because in addition to doing their ministries, they were also doing other organizations.

Dee Graham:
Yes.

Dorothy Emerson:
So we had a lot of good ideas about what Lambda could do, but just like you found, nobody wants to do it, because it wasn’t such a desperate need anymore. Once we were out, once we were being settled, it wasn’t such a desperate need.

Dee Graham:
Yeah. So, what a path we have gone and seen in our lifetime.

Dorothy Emerson:
Yeah, and that was just within one decade, because we’re talking about ’91 to ’98. That wasn’t even a whole decade. So —

Dee Graham:
Yeah. Of course, it didn’t fix what was out to be conquered yet, but it certainly gave us the kind of support we needed in those early years.

Dorothy Emerson:
I think by ’98, most ministers had their own support groups, including some straight ministers that were part of their support groups. So they didn’t so much need to … you don’t agree, you look like you …

Dee Graham:
Well, my experience was different, because I was in the South, I think. I mean, I don’t know that that’s the case, but in each section of the country, it’s kind of different. I was in California —

Dorothy Emerson:
Yeah, and I was in Massachusetts.

Dee Graham:
I was in California, there were plenty of lesbian and gay people and it wasn’t an issue. When I went to the South to do ministry, it was a huge issue. There weren’t other LBGT ministers of many. So that’s probably why I continued to be more involved, but there weren’t a lot of colleagues on the same path.

Dee Graham:
I remember setting a table at one general assembly for Lambda Ministers to meet when you had interest areas during UUMA during lunchtime. I set up the Lambda Minister table and John Buehrens came over with another colleague or two and he says, “Oh, this is a joke. It’s not really Lambda Ministers, we can sit here.” I said, “Oh, hi John, it is Lambda Ministers and you’re welcome to stay.”

Dee Graham:
He just kind of looked at me, but then pretty soon Gretchen Woods came over and sat down, and she says, “Is this Lambda Ministers?” I said, “Well, yes it is.” Then John got up and left. I don’t know, what was that about?

Dorothy Emerson:
He didn’t want to be identified.

Dee Graham:
Well, apparently —

Dorothy Emerson:
He thought he could steal your table, but —

Dee Graham:
Well, he would have been welcome to be a Lambda Minister, but I guess he had other things to do. So, that’s kind of how it goes sometimes. But it’s been great to have a place to do ministry and to have a denomination where we can become mainstream. So —

Dorothy Emerson:
Absolutely.

Dee Graham:
And to be here.

Dorothy Emerson:
Yes, it’s good to be here. Absolutely.

Dee Graham:
All right, thank you.

Dorothy Emerson:
Thank you.

Jay Deacon

Interview with Jay Deacon

I’m Jay Deacon. I just wanted to add a few stories that there wasn’t time for in the program the other day. I want to mention Provincetown for one thing, the old Universalist meeting house in Provincetown was close to expiring. It had hardly any members left. Beautiful building right in the middle of Provincetown. When the Ballou Channing District and maybe the Mass Bay district together decided this thing should be revived and should focus on a ministry to the gay and lesbian community that is all over Provincetown and they went looking for a minister and they called Kim K. Crawford Harvey and I’m not … She had been somewhere on the Cape as an assistant or something before that, but this is her first big ministry and the place began to fill up.

I was her regular substitute, particularly when she was in Central America and adopting her daughters and the place was packed. People sitting on the floor down the central aisle and I could usually count on Congressman Gerry Studds being there in the pews. There was that.

But after my work at the UUA, I was called to the UU Church in Oak Park, Illinois just outside Chicago, just out Lake Street, from the loop. The search committee had been looking for awhile and they had asked the settlement director for my packet and the settlement director told them, “Well, I don’t think he’s your man”, but they insisted and I had 10 of the best years of my work life at this new congregation because we led that congregation and Beacon Unitarian Church down the block into consolidation and really created a new congregation called Unity Temple, UU Congregation. That was a really exciting place to be.

That was during the time when towns and cities were going for domestic partner ordinances. There was a big campaign in Oak Park and lots of members of that congregation were knocking on doors for the domestic partner registry and the victory celebration was at Unity Temple. That was a really proud moment. Our district executive then was Helen Bishop, who a lot of UU’s will know.

I had arranged for a sabbatical working with British Unitarians while I was there. As the date approached, I was supposed to be going to serve this little five little yoked congregations in Yorkshire where my family is from. All of a sudden I learned that the Yorkshire congregations had refused to accept an American homosexual. This was an awkward moment. But Jeff Teagle, the executive secretary of the British Unitarians arranged two other ministries, one in Aberdeen, Scotland and one in Golders Green, London.

You know, a few years have passed but by now the British Unitarians are very outspoken advocates for queer people. They always have a nice presence at the giant London Pride parade.

I left Oak Park to go to Northampton, Massachusetts, the home of Jonathan Edwards, actually. His church was, his former church was … Who has actually been dead for a while, was down the block a little bit. This was about the time when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had ruled that marriage had to be open to same sex couples. The legislature acted and legalized same sex marriage.

In the meantime, I wrote a piece for the Daily Hampshire Gazette announcing that I wouldn’t sign marriage licenses until I could sign them for same sex couples too and it was kind of absurd for me to sign a license for something that wouldn’t even apply to me, that I didn’t qualify for. You know, I would do your wedding for sure, but you would need to go to a civil authority to sign the form, which is who ought to be signing these legal forms anyway. Why are clergy signing these things?

I was interviewed about this on a little North Hampton radio station, WRSS, which broadcast from a basement studio underneath an art store. The interviewer was Rachel Maddow, not yet discovered by Air America Radio or MSNBC.

Same sex marriage was legalized first in Massachusetts as a result of that court decision and on the eve of the laws taking effect, I conducted a big rally at the North Hampton meetinghouse and the place was packed. It was really quite electric, loads of people from the community. This was one of those moments when you could see that a part of that congregation was truly excited and felt that significance and the religious significance of what was happening and another part of the congregation was a bit uncomfortable and stayed away.

On the first day, the first wedding that I did was two women who had been members of the congregation for a lot of years. They’d already had a big wedding, you know, holy union, civil union things. This was small. This was just the two of them and their adopted little girl and me by the Smith College waterfall where they first kissed. The main attraction was the license and the legal protections that it brought. There were lots more after that.

But it takes only a few people in a congregation to make it impossible for you to stay, I found, and eventually a group of people who were not happy got control of the board and I was forced out. I went to Newport, Rhode Island to the Channing Memorial Church, outside of which stands the statue of Channing with arms raised, sort of keeping watch over us to make sure we’re behaving.

Marriage equality was coming up in Rhode Island then and the Senate president of the Rhode Island Senate was a devout Catholic who represented Newport and she had never allowed a marriage equality bill to come to a vote. She had never agreed to meet with activists to even talk about marriage equality but somehow we convinced her to meet with us, a gay couple and a straight woman, who’s been a terrific advocate for gay people.

We had a good conversation. She agreed to let the bill come to a vote and it passed. I should say a little bit more about Newport, and this is kind of a different aspect of this story. There were some progressive, courageous people in Newport. One of them, Pam Goff, before I ever got to Newport, had organized an annual prom for gay and lesbian and bisexual and eventually trans high school students. At first they used the police union hall, which was sort of amusing, but we had a very warm, friendly welcome there.

While I was there, we moved the prom to the city of Newport’s own oceanfront rotunda and carousel, and they ran the carousel for us. Kids came down on buses from Providence and the more conservative members of the congregation weren’t very happy about this. They weren’t about to say so publicly. They weren’t about to speak out against our having the prom, but you could feel the tension.

One of one of those members had Googled me and found that while I was minister in Northampton, I had written a column for the Northampton newspaper critical of Joseph Ratzinger, who had just become Pope Benedict, and talking about how he was very bad news indeed for gay and lesbian people. This man in Newport never forgave me for that and organized some opposition so I was there only four years.

I guess I want to say about that, just to remind us something that some wise minister said, that a minister always has got to keep at least one suitcase packed, at least if you’re doing your job.

But here really is my point. What this religious and spiritual movement is about is the evolution of consciousness and culture. Now I know something about the evolution of consciousness. I’ve undergone a lot of it and so have most of us and we’ve shared that evolution of consciousness together. When we do, we participate too in the creation of a new culture and the culture that we shape also shapes us and the larger culture around us, and the UU universe has borne witness to a higher human possibility, a culture that could and did evolve beyond the narrowness of soul of the world, of the apostle Paul or the Levitical holiness cod, or the world of Franklin Graham or the world of Mike Pence or the world of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

It’s an amazing thing. Look, it’s possible and there it is. You can see it. You can experience it. That has a really profound effect on the larger religious world and the UU movement has had a tremendously profound effect on the larger religious world. We can never underestimate that.

When I was director of the office of lesbian and gay concerns, we organized a UU presence for the 1987 March on Washington to protest Hardwick v. Bowers. People came on buses from all over the country. A lot of us were arrested at the civil disobedience at the Supreme Court but before that was a giant parade. As we marched, the UULGC folks were handing out bazillions of copies of this little pamphlet that I’d written called A Serious Spiritual Alternative For The Gay and Lesbian Community: Unitarian Universalism, which it is, in a particularly profound way, freeing people from the presumptive authority of ancient scriptures and enfolding them in a community that honors their humanity, believes in them and stands by them.

Michael Crumpler

Conversation with Michael Crumpler

Rev. Crumpler:
Well, I am the Reverend Michael Crumpler, the LGBTQ and multicultural programs director. It’s a lot. I just do the LGBTQ stuff, is what I hear people say. It’s a privilege to be here with you and a pleasure as well. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to join you at the beginning. Yesterday, I was in DC for the SCOTUS hearings. So I’ll weave in a little bit of that if you’d like or if you wouldn’t like. I’ll do it anyway. I’ll talk a little bit about that, because I think that it’s very…

Audience:
[crosstalk 00:00:47] hope.

Rev. Crumpler:
Oh, there’s hope. I mean there’s hope, there’s hope, there’s hope. There’s a lot of hope. The activists who were there and a lot of the folks who were in DC were very, very optimistic. That doesn’t mean that the decision will be positive. It just means that there’s hope. I think that the crux of the work that we’re involved in, beginning with what we were talking about today, and what changes culture are people living lives and telling their stories, people living their lives and telling their stories. So as King, Dr. Martin Luther King once says, “The arc of the universe bends towards justice.” It’s long, but it bends towards —

Audience: Theodore Parker also said that.

Audience: Theodore Parker.

Audience: Theodore Parker said that.

Rev. Crumpler:
And Theodore Parker [crosstalk 00:01:40]. The arc of the universe is, I don’t know. Who is Theodore Parker, since we have brought them into the space? Theodore Parker …

Audience:
Was a Unitarian minister from the 1850s, very much anti-slavery, put himself at risk and a hero. [ 00:02:00].

Rev. Crumpler:
Good. So Theodore Parker, 1850, Martin Luther King, 1960, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

Audience:
Moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

Rev. Crumpler:
Hopefully, we won’t have to wait 100 years. But what changes policy and what is changing minds, changes policy. I know that yesterday, Gorsuch, a part of what he was saying, what his concerns were that should we decide this case broadly, which is what we want, that that could be a big social uprising or something along the lines of what he said. Not so, because they are states that already have these laws in place and there’s people are just going to the bathroom and going to work, and not necessarily in that order. So it was a good time.

So I’ll say a little bit more about that. But why don’t we begin with a gathering. Blessed are the trailblazers and there’s a … Where it says one, you may not be able to see this, so I think I’ll just read it for you. Would that be helpful? Can you see it?

Audience: [crosstalk 00:03:24].

Rev. Crumpler:
Great. Well, those of you who can see it say, read it loudly so that the rest of us can feel it. Blessed are the trailblazers.

Audience:
Who brought us this far, and are still trailblazing, still celebrating.

Rev. Crumpler:
Blessed are the drag queens and kings.

Audience:
Who remind us to not take life too seriously.

Rev. Crumpler:
Blessed are the gender benders, non-binary, gender fluid and third gender folk.

Audience:
Those who challenge us to reframe our gender paradigm.

Rev. Crumpler:
Blessed are the young ones.

Audience:
Who present fearlessly from the start.

Rev. Crumpler:
Blessed are their parents.

Audience:
Who make space for freedom, and love their children fiercely.

Rev. Crumpler:
Blessed are the siblings and relatives.

Audience:
Who educate, support and love us as we are.

Rev. Crumpler:
Blessed are the gender queer youth.

Audience:
Those who are fabulously flourishing and those who are struggling and persist.

Rev. Crumpler:
Blessed are the 90 year olds just coming out.

Audience:
And those who have been out decades.

Rev. Crumpler:
Blessed are those whose lives were cut short.

Audience:
May their stories live on through us.

Rev. Crumpler:
Blessed are the survivors.

Audience:
May they keep on living.

Rev. Crumpler:
Blessed are the allies.

Audience:
Learning to be accomplices.

Rev. Crumpler:
Blessed are those gathered here today, witnessing learning, celebrating. May we all commit to continue showing up, fighting for justice, celebrating all the genders in life.

Audience:
May we all commit to continue showing up, fighting for justice, celebrating all the genders in life.

Rev. Crumpler:
Amen. Ashe. May it be so. So the next slide is introductions. This presentation by the way, is a presentation that I am giving monthly as I present the new program around welcome, which is the five practices of Welcome Renewal. So I just basically am sharing a presentation, engaging you in a presentation that I offer regularly. So if you’re excited about this and going back to your congregations and your communities and you want folks to hear what’s new with Welcoming Congregations, you’ll have my contact information so that anyone in your communities can hear what you get to hear.

So by way of introduction, again I’m still Michael Crumpler, the LGBTQ and multicultural programs director at the UUA. Much of what I do is Welcoming Congregations, but the Welcoming Congregation is really an engine that kind of keeps on going. And I give credit to all of you who, if you didn’t create the program, you at least carried the program so that it is a household or a congregation hold name within your faith communities. So I’ve had the baton passed on to me in the next, I guess lap of this race that we’re on is the five practices of Welcome Renewal. But other work that I do is organizing and strategy team, which is the newest staff group at the UUA, which oversees organizing and movements and campaigns and those sorts of things.

There’s a four pronged strategy with that. We do immigration, we do electoral justice reform, climate justice and LGBTQ and I support and I’m responsible for the LGBTQ person, which is a lot of why I was in DC yesterday. I also am responsible for planning and executing. I imagine the finding our way home retreat, which is a retreat now that’s been going on for I think more than 15 years. The religious professionals of color. Last year was the largest conference and it was the first one that I had the opportunity had the privilege of leading. It was a lot, but it was a beautiful, beautiful time. We had over 130 folks who were engaged. When I say religious professionals, we mean ministers, religious educators, administrators, musicians, seminarian, and we say distinguished guests. So retirees and so forth. So we’re always trying to make sure that everyone knows about the retreat. In the past has been sort of word of mouth.

So if you have religious professionals of color in your communities and congregations, please share with them about the finding our way on conference, because we want everyone to know that it is open to them and then put them in contact with me as well. I do other things, but I won’t bore you with that. But we’re really, really excited about the five practices of welcome and I’m really, really excited to have been invited to talk to you about it. And let’s get started. So what have you learned about the following areas? Identity 101. So anyone, when it comes to identity 101, what have you learned about identity 101 by being in a Welcoming Congregation? Or what has Welcoming Congregations taught you about identity 101? Anyone just call out.

Audience:
Let people name their own identities.

Rev. Crumpler:
Amen. Let people name their own identities. Identity 101 is again identity is something that we want people to own for themselves and believe who people say that they are. Great. Welcoming Congregations has taught us about identity 101. What else? When you hear identity 101.

Audience:
Don’t make assumptions.

Rev. Crumpler:
Pardon?

Audience:
Don’t make assumptions.

Rev. Crumpler:
Don’t make assumptions. Don’t make assumptions. Right? Hear what people are saying. Does that mean that you walk up to people and just ask them what they are?

Audience:
No.

Rev. Crumpler:
Exactly. So there’s an art, less of a science than art to identity 101. Don’t make assumptions, but don’t force people to define who they are, right off the bat. Identity 101, one more.

Audience:
There’s [crosstalk 00:09:54] a status in a wider community.

Rev. Crumpler:
Say that one more time.

Audience:
There’s a status in the wider community.

Rev. Crumpler:
Say more.

Audience:
Who identify as being LGBTQ friendly and not all the churches around are.

Rev. Crumpler:
Yes, exactly, yes. So I hear what you’re saying. Being a Welcoming Congregation that identifies with LGBTQ, gives Unitarian Universalism standing in the wider community. It’s not always good standing, depending on what community you are probably in, more progressive spaces, yes. Less progressive spaces, no. But I think, Identity 101 gives us a basic understanding of what queer experience, LGBTQ experiences are. We know at least the letters. You know you’re in a friendly space when folks can just rattle LGBTQ right off the bat. Right? They don’t get the G first or the B. It’s just like, it’s just one of those things, it’s very, very small that queer people or people who are lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, it just feels good. You’re just, “Ah, they got it right. They can kind of sing it. It just feels good.” That’s something that I credit to having a legacy of Welcoming Congregations within our faith. Sexuality and gender. What has being or worshiping in a Welcoming Congregation taught you about sexuality and gender?

Audience:
It’s complex.

Rev. Crumpler:
It’s complex. It’s complicated, right? That you just can’t assume that just because someone is trans, that they’re gay, right?

Audience:
I didn’t know. [crosstalk 00:11:35].

Audience:
They’re separate.

Rev. Crumpler:
They’re separate. Right? We certainly know that just because someone is gay and lesbian, they may not be trans. We’re safe to assume that. So the two are separate and so a trans woman comes into your congregation with a cis partner. Are they a gay couple or are they a lesbian couple? It’s complicated. You don’t know. Probably best not to ask. Don’t ask. It’s actually a little easier for you. But so at least we know within our Welcoming Congregation ethos that sexuality, who people are sexually attracted to or how people are sexually attracted and how people present gender-wise, it’s different. So it’s a different conversation. The reason why that’s important is because, I mean behind the politics of all of this and how we engage folks and what we expect them to know and what we assume about them is very important. I believe that the reason why we in this room are comfortable having this conversation is because of Welcoming Congregations. Yes ma’am.

Audience:
I was going to say sexuality and gender is not age-tied in terms of the person’s self-awareness. It could be anything from very young to 90.

Rev. Crumpler:
Exactly. Which is addressed in our whole lives curriculum, correct. So now we have our own lives as adults, we had our lives as children. But like again, when we speak about them, like just because when you’re speaking about sexuality, I think there’s a way in which we’re constantly amplifying the voices of middle-aged and young adults in a way that where the conversation is different when folks are aging. I believe that what’s beautiful about this space talking about this is that it is a space of older folk. So it’s so important to continue having these conversations.

Audience:
I would like to say it also gives folks new categories or new names that they didn’t know before that may change their own personal identity.

Rev. Crumpler:
Thank you so much for saying that. These are very fluid. Sexuality and gender and what you learned today is going to be old next week. So there’s like a need again for continued openness to these concepts. Anti LGBTQ legislation. What is the hallmark anti LGBTQ legislation that we all were a part of and know about and celebrate?

Audience:
Same sex marriage [crosstalk 00:14:43].

Rev. Crumpler:
Same sex marriage, marriage equality. We invested so much time and so many resources in marriage equality only to learn that most people aren’t getting married anyway. But it’s important to be able to, but side with love.

Audience:
[crosstalk 00:15:03] neither are heterosexual couple.

Rev. Crumpler:
Pardon?

Audience:
Neither are heterosexual.

Rev. Crumpler:
Exactly. Yeah. People in general. [crosstalk 00:15:08]. So we created an entire movement standing on the side with love, which is now side with love out of marriage equality. Marriage equality is the largest, again, anti LGBTQ legislation that we’ve won. But as we know, it is not the only one and it’s only… for many people, it’s irrelevant. Whereas what happened yesterday applies to all of us and it impacts all of us in a way that marriage equality never will. The right to work, to get married on Sunday. The fact that you can get married on Sunday and be fired on Monday is a big deal or married on Sunday and evicted on Monday is a big deal. But again, Welcoming Congregations gives us a space to be able to engage that. Then lastly, HIV AIDS, as one who is HIV positive, I really, really appreciate the story that was shared this morning because it is important for us to realize that HIV and AIDS is not happening in another space.

This happening in this space and Unitarian Universalism along with other liberal progressive faiths in the ’80s and ’90s should be credited as just important to getting us to where we are today as the CDC and pharmaceutical companies and activism. I believe that people had spaces that would bury those whose lives were lost, that people had the spaces that they could be supported, amid going through things like having to register with the public health department. Having to work in jobs where you were depending upon the healthcare, but concerned about whether or not your place of employment would hear about your status.

Unitarian Universalism and the Welcoming Congregations, which was birthed right along the same time as the HIV/AIDS movement epidemic took off, shouldn’t be missed. I think that is something that we should name and be proud of. While we’ve learned a lot and Unitarian Universalism as I just named, there’s so much more to learn. So as we think about Welcoming Congregations and where we’re headed and what we need to know, there is a need for programming and space for us to continue to grow our knowledge in these areas. Because as I named, what we know today is not enough, will not be enough next week or next month or next year. So what might we still have to learn about? Identity 101, we mentioned this before, like one thing that we’ve learned is like don’t just go up to someone and begin engaging them about their identity.

However, there is a conversation to be had about our identity in general, all of our identities. So how to ask someone about their identity? How to guide children and youth into healthy identity formation? How to create faith environments that is inclusive of all identities? And how does one’s nationality, ethnicity and race impact identity? I love the ask for someone to… that you’re looking for stories around intersectionality. Because we know that ones sexuality and gender identity impacts them differently based upon nationality, race, ethnicity, class, all of these things. Black trans women, we’ll see a video here shortly are impacted differently during this time of like, high transgender visibility. We’re excited to be seen, but in a community where someone’s able to walk out of their house after having watched the news or followed some story on social media and then see a black trans woman walking down the street, that creates a certain level of risk that we’re all celebrating.

If we don’t understand that right, then it becomes complicated. So Welcoming Congregations give us a space to have these conversations. Sexuality and gender. How to use language that separates the two. They’re not the same. What are the diversities of transgender identity and sexual identity and how to create a faith environment that is inclusive of all identities. So much of the air that we breathe in our faith spaces, even as Unitarian Universalists is gendered. So much of how we engage one another. So much of how we create categories is gendered and so like how can we continue to think about how we relate to one another?

Where are the underground community situations? I love adding this line in here because while we talk a lot about the differences, lesbian, gay, identity or what’s really impacts folks is where they live. And what they bring when they come into a faith community is a deep, deep need for spiritual connection. Most people are very, very comfortable with who they are. They know who they are, they know how they identify, they share their pronouns when they come into our spaces, our fixed spaces, they’re looking for connection. A lot of that comes out of relationship conflicts. How do we engage people who are in open relationships in our faith community? How do we engage folks who are deeply connected in the BDSM community and how do we talk about that in spiritual space? The chem party scene, the heroin epidemic, the crystal meth epidemic are a huge, huge spiritual indicators as to where our community is.

So while there is a lot of progress, there’s a lot of pain, a lot of pain. I don’t have statistics for you, but see, suffice it to say that addiction is rampant in the LGBTQ community. And when folks are coming into your space, how are we… rather than just waving a flag, they’re looking for a little bit more. We’re looking for a little bit more. Kiki Ball Culture. How many of you have seen the show Pose? Yay. Excellent, excellent. Very, very important show, very engaging. It’s essentially a show about black and Latino queer culture in the 1990s.

Audience:
What’s the name of the show again?

Rev. Crumpler:
Pose, P-O-S-E.

Audience:
What channel? What is [crosstalk 00:22:54]?

Rev. Crumpler:
It’s on, is it Bravo or…

Audience:
FX.

Rev. Crumpler:
FX and if it’s always a season behind on Netflix. So right now season one is on Netflix. Great time to go back and watch that [crosstalk 00:23:09]. But what’s the beauty of Pose and the experience that pose is exposing are the underground communities of homeless black and Brown queer and trans folk in the ’90s. And like how they created community out of performance culture for survival alongside of sex work and other means of survival. It’s important for you to know that when you’re watching Pose that Pose it’s really not about the ’90s, it’s really about now. So this is what’s going on. But it shows us how to share space. It talks to space and again, what is the need as it relates to LGBTQ inclusion? And that’ll connect to what I’ve mentioned what we talked about a little bit around marriage equality.

Audience:
And it is created by transgender and gay people too?

Rev. Crumpler:
Yes, it is. So Janet Mock is one of the firsts around black trans theme [inaudible 00:24:20]. So Janet Mock is very heavily in the production. It’s won awards and —

Audience:
Billy Porter

Rev. Crumpler:
So Billy Porter got an Emmy. There was the first trans Emmy nominated actress this year, so there’s a lot. What were you going to say, ma’am?

Audience:
Let me take you back BDSM, what…?

Rev. Crumpler:
It’s —

Audience:
Bondage.

Rev. Crumpler:
… bondage culture, 50 Shades of Gray, that kind of bondage. So I’m not in the BDSM community so I want to be careful about how I define the BDSM community. However, along with the Kiki Ball Culture, the BDSM, the leather community has been a community of survival for several decades. And we don’t talk about it in faith spaces because we just don’t have the language, just it’s not taboo. I would imagine that many folks here are much more familiar with the leather community than I am. However, I think that there is space to talk about these things in Welcoming Congregations, in Unitarian Universalism in a way that it’s not possible in other faith communities. Anti LGBTQ legislation, what laws are on the books in your state? Legislation happens community by community, state by state. Welcoming Congregations gives us a great opportunity for movement and activism, how to organize against them and who is most impacted.

We know that anytime legislation is concerned, those most impacted are black and brown bodies and we’re very well at the intersections of immigration and racial justice and making those connections, seeing that Welcoming Congregation isn’t just another thing that siloed off. Welcoming Congregations, Immigrations, Black Lives Matter, Climate Justice, where are these connections? How do these things intersect? When you’re doing Welcoming Congregations [inaudible 00:26:23] you’re doing Climate Justice, you ought to be doing racial justice. So all of these things connect. Then finally HIV AIDS. What are the most modern prevention and treatment options? HIV/AIDS is a death sentence for many people, not for me, but for many living on the margins, particularly for heterosexual black women and black and brown queer men are still dying from HIV and AIDS. How to address survivor syndrome in congregations? Raise your hand if you know someone who died of AIDS in the ’90s or ’80s.

Audience:
We all do [crosstalk 00:27:11].

Rev. Crumpler:
Exactly about we all do and we usually don’t get to talk about them until like world AIDS day maybe. You’ll be asked to have… Ironically I don’t or at least I don’t know that I do. There were alive that we lost in our family, but it wasn’t named that. That’s what it was. So what survivor syndrome in the AIDS community or the AIDS activists community is basically you living in reality without naming the grief that you’re still experiencing for people that you lost to the epidemic 20 and 30 years ago. Many of our ministers just aren’t equipped to help you talk about that. Particularly because a lot of the trauma, a lot of the folks that died in the early AIDS were white gay men. I will say that lately, we’ve not been so well or listened to white grief. So share that pain, talk about it. Make space for people to talk about it beyond world AIDS day.

HIV criminalization, in many States, I want to say approximately 30 States, there are antiquated laws on the books that still means or makes it illegal to transmit HIV even with consent, even with… not consent because no one consents to… that’s not the best word. Disclosure, [crosstalk 00:28:56] disclosure, disclosure. A lot of them are on the books because they just haven’t been revisited because it’s just not an issue anymore. But usually when these things come about it’s when it’s being weaponized particularly against black men. So these laws are still on the books and so we need to talk about modern treatment methods, what living with HIV means that there are treatments available. Those treatments need to be made to everybody. Yesterday California celebrated the fact that prep and pep are now available or will be soon available without a prescription. So prep and [crosstalk 00:29:40] pep.

Audience:
What are they?

Rev. Crumpler:
Prep is preventative medicines to prevent you from contracting HIV. So it’s a regimen that you can choose to take, similar to like a vitamin that you have to be consistent with that will prevent you from contracting HIV. Prep is pre-exposure, pep is post exposure. Post-exposure is if you suspect that you might have contracted HIV the previous day or night or hour, you are able to go to your doctor and like have that conversation and then take medications. What communities are most impacted? Again, I named this like anytime criminalization is in the picture black and brown bodies are most impacted.

Audience:
Michael.

Rev. Crumpler:
Yes.

Audience:
[inaudible 00:30:39]. So pep you can go to your doctor, you can also go to an emergency room.

Rev. Crumpler:
Thank you.

Audience:
[inaudible 00:30:49] because if you catch it within 72 hours you can [inaudible 00:30:52].

Rev. Crumpler:
72 hours. You can go to our [inaudible 00:30:57] emergency room and hopefully again in California and hopefully in more States you can even get it sooner than that. So thank you. But most importantly, how do we meet the spiritual needs of the LGBTQ community? Many of whom are already in our congregations. But have been sacrificed to other work that we’re going and have been basically taught in not so many words that we’ve celebrated you, we’ve accepted you, now let’s get to work together and not talk about you. However, there are spiritual needs that come with anyone, like we all are living in bodies. So those our spiritual needs are as a result of living as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual folk.

Video: [inaudible 00:31:55].

Rev. Crumpler:
That’s going to get some volume on this.

Video: [inaudible 00:32:16] walking down the street [inaudible 00:32:16] in my car and it seems as just because I’m trans [inaudible 00:32:20].

Video: Savannah Bowens is a black trans woman —

Rev. Crumpler:
Can you hear.

Video: [crosstalk 00:32:26] where three black trans women have been murdered this year.

Video: How many [inaudible 00:32:33]. I believe that number is so like bigger.

Video: [inaudible 00:32:37] transgender community.

Video: Transgender woman was found dead.

Video: [inaudible 00:32:41] transgender woman in Jackson Walker is killed inside [inaudible 00:32:43].

Video: Another transgender woman.

Video: Jacksonville have been solved yet and they’re actually part of an alarming crisis. Since 2015 at least 85 trans women have been murdered across the country. Most of them black trans women and gender non-conforming people.

Video: It’s like if I was searching for a place to move to [inaudible 00:33:13]. You know what I mean?

Rev. Crumpler: I don’t think the sound is on.

Video: [crosstalk 00:33:16] turns out a lot of these cases have something in common.

Video: She was a transgender woman, police identified as a male when she was killed.

Video: Just in past 90 minutes, Jacksonville police released that victim’s birth name was identified initially as a man by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office.

Video: Referring to the victim as a black male in his 20s who appears to identify as a female.

Video: The way, cops are investigating these crimes. Transgender people are more likely to face violence and discrimination than the average US resident. One of the reasons they’re often at risk is their ID. A simple document that many might take for granted. When the gender marker on state issued ID doesn’t match the outward appearance of a transgender person. It opens up a world of harassment and sometimes violence.

Video: When it comes to getting a job, this could be the best job ever, and now all of a sudden [inaudible 00:34:20].

Video: They can be afraid to show their ID while driving, at a bar or to vote for fear of someone finding out that they’re transgender.

Video: The scary part is being stopped by the police, you never know who’s stopping you. Some of these people are homophobic, you just don’t know.

Video: [inaudible 00:34:47]. (music).

Video: According to a 2015 survey of transgender people, nearly a third of people with mismatched IDs reported being harassed, denied services or attacked. They can also lose access to medical care, become homeless, or be forced into sex work.

Video: A lot of times our trans women, they’re resorting to things such as prostitution because society has made it so hard. Every girl may not be as feminine as others or they or look passable as we love to say in our community. What do you do when you’re hungry? What do you do when your rent is due and your lights are about to be cut off. Like you can’t work because you don’t fit into the norm, because your friends they’re in the same situation as you and your family wants nothing to do with you. So you walk the streets in unsafe environments, just so that you could feed yourself.

Video: And discrimination trans people face in life can continue after they die. In Jacksonville during murder investigations, the police often identified victims by names they no longer used instead of their preferred names. In the trans community, whether this happens in life or death. It’s called deadnaming. The police have also systematically denied the victims identities by incorrectly describing their gender.

Video: If they were known as a woman and that’s what they live their life as, they’re refusing to do that.

Video: In addition to the disrespect, deadnaming can slow down a murder investigation in its most critical hours.

Video: You don’t get to choose what gender I am. Those people that know me in the streets or whatever, they knew me as a woman. So you’re saying I’m a man and you’re misnaming me and giving my biological name. How do you expect to solve a case [inaudible 00:36:48] nobody knows that. What if I was murdered in the hotel and people saw a woman going in and you’re saying aman, that’s not what they saw. That’s not who they are.

Video: This is part of a national pattern. ProPublica contacted all law enforcement agencies in locations where trans people have been killed since 2015 and found that 87% of victims were deadnamed or mis-gendered by authorities. Many police departments, site and internal policy to go with the name and sex listed on a victim state ID.

Video: By name transgender [inaudible 00:37:21] reflect what it is so that I can be respected. I feel like it’s a prison. It’s like it’s a prison and I haven’t a release date, but I have no keys to get out myself. [Inaudible 00:37:33].

Video: Savannah has recently started the process of legally changing the gender marker on her ID, but turns out switching that tiny M or F can be incredibly hard. There are no federal policies to address gender marker changes on documents like driver’s licenses. So it’s left up to the States. Some are generally more trans friendly than others, while others require a court order, an amended birth certificate or proof of surgery.

Video: [inaudible 00:38:04] The laws across the United States from state to state and it does not make any sense. It’s supposed to be United, right?

Video: Treslin Barber lives in Georgia and has been in the process of changing her ID, but it’s not been easy. Georgia law requires proof of gender reassignment surgery, which is a high barrier for most people.

Video: The cost of gender reassignment surgery at the low end that I’ve seen in research in the United States is $15,000. The problem is getting health coverage to cover something like that, to be hit with a solid wall of not being able to move forward is heartbreaking. It can destroy people.

Video: But she later remembered a crucial detail.

Video: I wasn’t born here. I was born in New York.

Video: The state of New York with a less restrictive policy required only a doctor’s note stating she was transitioning. They sent her a corrected birth certificate within a month, which she’s used to update most of her documents.

Video: Here it is. That’s a certified copy raised seal with my name, my changed name, and my correct sex. And I was halfway back from the mailbox when I opened this up. I had other mail on my hands. Everything else fell from my hands. I fell on my knees and started crying in the middle of the grass right out here. It’s okay. After thinking I was not going to ever get it done. [inaudible 00:39:53], I’m sorry. It’s the most amazing feeling.

Video: As for Savannah. She’s working with a lawyer in Jacksonville to get her ID changed.

Video: When that day comes for me, when my gender marker is changed it will be the missing piece of that puzzle. It’s that important.

Video: She hopes it will keep her a little bit safer, but knows that this problem is bigger than a letter on her ID. After we saw her, another trans woman was murdered in Florida, this time, a few hours South of Jacksonville. The Sheriff’s office described the victim as a man wearing a wig and dressed as a female, another case of deadnaming and a murder that’s yet to be solved. In a recent interview with local news Jacksonville sheriff acknowledged that there had been a lack of sensitivity when referring to transgender victims, but so far no new policy has been set. For more of ProPublica’s recording, you can check out their feature piece at the links below. Thanks.

Rev. Crumpler:
So several spiritual needs come to mind as we watch. I know for me, I saw dignity, worship, acceptance, advocacy, community, identification, justice, rest. What else? What other maybe spiritual…?

Audience: Worth.

Rev. Crumpler: Worth.

Audience: Authenticity.

Rev. Crumpler: Authenticity.

Audience: Affection.

Rev. Crumpler: Affection. Thank you.

Audience: Education.

Rev. Crumpler: Education.

Audience: Trust.

Rev. Crumpler: Trust.

Audience: Freedom.

Rev. Crumpler: Freedom.

Audience: Courage.

Rev. Crumpler: Courage.

Audience: Listening.

Rev. Crumpler: Listening.

Audience: Affirmation.

Rev. Crumpler: Affirmation, ma’am.

Audience: Friendliness.

Rev. Crumpler: Friendliness. And on and on and on. So what ministers and social justice committees are hearing in congregations is that we’re already welcoming. We did this work 30 years ago. Our minister is a lesbian. People don’t want a flag flown in front of the congregation. People just want to be left alone and not talked about, which might be true. However, a Welcoming Congregation is more than just a congregation that did the work 30 years ago or allowed a minister or lesbian minister that come out. A Welcoming Congregation is a living, breathing organism that is equipped and agile enough and prepared to receive those who are still coming out, still wrestling with identity. Those who have been out and are still at risk.

So my vision for Welcoming Congregations is a place where we’re ready, where we’re equipped. Where when someone like Savannah shows up at the door, we’re ready. We’re not stumbling over pronouns. We’re not fighting over pews, we have space accommodations that are flexible and free and we have our language and correct and we’re ready to go and welcome folks into our congregations. So Welcoming Congregation started in 1990 when this gentleman was in the white house and when this gentleman had hair. That’s me in 1990s in high school. Long before I’d ever come out or ever thought I’d be doing this work. I loved the idea of faith that was beginning to prepare to welcome me and you a great job. Other things happening around 1990 is the state of New York court of appeals declares that a lesbian and gay couple living together for at least 10 years can be considered a family for purposes of birth control, protection. And similar statutes were enacted in San Francisco and Seattle.

In 1985 the UCC, the United Church of Christ passed a resolution on open and affirming. So open and affirming is the sibling program, if you will, to the Welcoming Congregations program. 80% of our congregations are formerly welcoming. 35% of UCC’s congregation are formally open and affirming. However, their 35% is bigger than our entire faith. So it kind of gives you an idea as to what other faiths are going. Then Presbyterians have a similar program as well. As far as the UUA is concerned in 1970 just to kind of give you an idea as to how the buildup was for Welcoming Congregations. In 1970, there was a general resolution against discrimination. In 1987 a business resolution to rescinding laws governing private sexual behavior between consenting adults and in 1993 resolution of immediate witness to repeal, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Which is interesting because I joined the air force in 1994 just before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was official.

It’s just interesting that Unitarian Universalism, I thought I loved it. I was excited about don’t ask, don’t tell, I won’t be asked, nor do I need to tell that I am gay. I think that it’s beautiful that our faith was forward thinking enough to begin activism, movement, work against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell even before the LGBTQ community realized that it was bad. So this image here shows the arc in which our congregations became welcoming beginning in 1990, your basic bell curve. So you would expect that by about 2006 most congregations that wouldn’t become welcoming had become welcoming and then the rest is just maintenance. So nothing like super wild here except that the purple portions on the bars is when congregations would have renewed they’re welcoming. So not long after Welcoming Congregations began, we created the renewal program, which was like, okay, this isn’t one and done, five years or so after you became welcoming, we encourage you to revisit your welcoming and renew.

While many congregations have become welcoming, not all congregations have renewed and we’ll talk about why. So as it stands, 810 congregations are welcoming, but only 34 have renewed. The reason for that is many fold. Like a lot of congregations didn’t know that they needed to renew. We haven’t been that good at reminding congregations that they need to renew. Folks have changed this position. Congregations changed all that to say we’re also with single issue congregations doing the thing that is sexy at the time. Welcoming Congregations here, Race Work there, Immigration there, Climate Justice here. So we haven’t been very creative around getting two things done at once.

Here’s the five practices of Welcome Renewal with five minutes left. So I get like a minute of practice. So the five practices of Welcome renewed is a new way of thinking of renewal. In the past we had to do about 18 months of welcome work to become a Welcoming Congregation. Then we were asking you five years later to do another 18 months of work in order to become welcoming. I wouldn’t have done it either. While alongside of that, congregations have been practicing welcome all along. So what I have been hearing from congregation is that, “Why do we have to renew? We’re doing the work already.” Which is very true. So in an effort to meet congregations halfway, we are basically affirming what you’re doing, what you’re practicing in congregational life as Welcoming Congregations, which are Welcoming worship services, Welcoming days of observance, a Welcoming religious education, which I’ve called here Welcoming Congregation module, but Welcoming religious education and supporting a Welcoming project or campaign or institution.

So these are the things that congregations have said matter to them, matter to you around being welcoming. So we’re basically institutionalizing the work that congregations are already doing and we’re going to make that work available to congregations that aren’t doing anything. So the hope is that, and rather than asking you to do it every five years, we’re asking you to do it every year. So every year as you worship and celebrate and educate and support, you will be renewed as welcoming. So a couple of questions, if you’re not renewing, if you choose not to do this, your Welcoming Congregation status will not be revoked. If you choose not to do it every year, you will not be shamed or penalized. Some congregations are small, some congregations are large, some are resourced. Well, the annual aspect of this is an annual commitment for me to create materials and resources that is current so that every year we will create our religious education, webinar and resources.

Every year we will let you know what books are available, what movies are available, what the issues are, what the hot button issues are that you need to do in order to renew. Then every year we will be reviewing institutions that we’re in alignment with to ensure that whenever you’re giving to a particular cause that it’s trustworthy and that it’s doing the actual work. And receiving from you if you choose not to support the projects that we recommend hearing from you every year, what’s going on. So you say, “Hey, we don’t want to give any money to human rights campaign, but there is this little struggling community in our… struggling a bit, a nonprofit in our community we want to give to. And we want other congregations to know about their work.” Then that work will get amplified and so that every year congregations are renewing.

So how do you renew? It’s electronic. So on our website you will getting to the end here, oh here we go. On our website at www.uua.org/LGBTQ you will simply complete an automated form. If you aren’t technologically savvy, there is a print form of that which will basically make us aware of what your congregation is doing. It’s less about a checkbox and more about sharing of resources. So what happens is when you renew, you will upload your worship bulletin so that a congregation that doesn’t know how to do that or doesn’t know what a welcoming worship service is or look like or involved will have access to that. You are uploading your welcoming days of observance, chalice lightings, music, poetry, art that you’ve seen or used on your social media so the other congregations can resource it.

As it stands now, welcome worship web does not have a lot of resources that are LGBTQ or any other marginalization for that matter, but it’s another workshop so that as you certify, we’re receiving resources and co-creating resources as a faith. Same thing with a Welcoming Congregation model module. If you do something in your… for instance, you had an amazing panel discussion that is a welcoming module. If you wanted to, you could make that available to other congregations so that they can host an opportunity like this to get a bunch of people from your congregation in a room, and that would be your way of renewing welcome for the year. So those are the things that we’re talking about.

The only thing that changes is that you’ll receive a certificate that looks like this. Once you renew that you would display in your congregations and perhaps you do it in 2019, 2020 but maybe 2021 you decided not to do it because there was an election and you didn’t get around to it. Fine, you’ll just have the ones displayed that you did so that when folks come into your space, they see what your commitment to this work is obvious.

Ned Wight

Ned Wight

I think I’ll talk about two parts of my ministerial formation and the settlement process as an extension minister. SI was part of the extension ministry program, and this would be in the late 80s and early 90s. And I’ll start with a story of my coming out, which was part of an internship that I had at First Parish in Belmont, Massachusetts with Diane Miller as the senior minister for that congregation. And I had been there for a year and a half or so in 1989 and 1990, and in October of 1990 I had a preaching opportunity, and I was active in the group that was trying to decide about the welcoming, doing the welcoming congregation, to make the congregation open and affirming for lesbian, gay, bisexual people, and was active in that group. And I had not come out to the congregation or anyone in the congregation, and I thought, “This seems both hypocritical and exceedingly awkward.”

And it just seemed wrong to me. Now, I’d had some conversations, as you might expect, with people through seminary because I was still at Harvard Divinity School, or through conversations with people from the settlement office or the student office about, do you disclose or not disclose that you’re gay when you’re going into the search process? And do you disclose or not disclose when you’re going into an internship? And the conventional wisdom at that time was that it’s probably better not to disclose because you never know what negative consequences you might have, and you might keep your options open by keeping your sexual orientation secret. And it seemed, the more I thought about it and the more I thought about it, particularly in the context of working with a welcoming congregation program, in the congregation, the more absurd that just seemed.

And having established rapport with this congregation over, this was my, I think the second year of my internship, it just seemed ridiculous for me not to be open with them. And so I preached that in October of 1990, and Diane Miller last night at our conference here shared with me a vignette about two of the older members of the congregation about that very sermon, which I had not heard myself, but I thought it was interesting. I’m a person who has always looked a little bit younger than my actual age. And so in the sermon, I disclose that number one that I was 40 years old and number two that I was gay. And at the conclusion of the service, somebody who was observing these two women said that they, as I had gone to the back of the congregation, they turned and looked to each other and said, “I can’t believe it. I had no idea he was 40 years old.”

I think what’s really instructive about, and the, I have to say that the response on the part of the congregation was…I think it was so, it was cathartic for people for a whole range of issues where people had felt that they had been silenced. I entitled the sermon “Conspiracy of Silence” and it created a context for people to be self-disclosing in ways, over the next several months, that I think was pretty, pretty liberating.
This little funny story about the “I didn’t know he was that old, shocked to find that he’s 40”, I think illustrates one of the learnings from particularly a situation where you are projecting how other people are going to react to something or how people make sense of it or how people judge it. That those projections are often, are misaligned with the reality of the way people are actually looking at the world and that the surprising thing should have something to do with age and nothing to do with sexual orientation is just…On the one hand it’s sort of, Oh my God, how could I miss that? But on the other hand, it’s how tragic and sad that the assumptions that we make about realities that we think we’re…That people are not going to be able to deal with, and that we shield ourselves, often protect ourselves from that when needlessly, and create prisons of our own manufacture. It’s just really tragic and unfortunate.

The second part of this saga, so I decided after this internship was over, and I actually had a year, an extra year with this congregation because Diane decided that she was going to go off and do something on her own, and I had an opportunity to serve as acting senior minister for the congregation for a year immediately after my internship. And then during that year, I decided that the next step for me would be to enter the extension ministry program, which was funded by the U U Veatch Program at Shelter Rock that was putting money together to support ministers in startup congregations and young congregations and pay for a certain part of their salary for the first year and a lesser part the second and third.

It was a sort of an opportunity for congregations to experience professional ministry of leadership and in a way that would be affordable for them as they built up more capacity to support a minister on their own. I entered this program and it was a matter of matchmaking on the part of the program more than doing a full search. And the congregation that they selected for me to, they thought would be a good match was Summit Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in, at that time in La Mesa, California, which was a suburb of San Diego. And I went out there and spent a whirlwind week preaching. I think I preached…I’m trying to remember if I preached the first Sunday. I think it was a matter of having meetings with people most of the week and then preaching twice on the weekend.

But it was a thorough grilling, and it was really at that time that I realized that there were, I represented two “Gs” for them. As a theist, I represented God as a “G” and as a person who was gay, I represented the gay as a “G” and it became immediately apparent during that first week that being, that the God “G” was of much greater concern and provoked a lot more anxiety for them than the gay “G.” And so part of the value of learning that early on is that it became possible for us to work on some significant listening programs within the congregation to have people be able to articulate their theological perceptions of the universe and to listen to one another and to determine whether or not we wanted to be the kind of congregation which I wanted us to be.

That was a very large tent for people to hold a wide variety of theological views, which was I think one of the strengths of our religious movement. We actually spent, I would say the first three years of my 13 years of ministry there working diligently on, I think eliminating, reducing some of the reactivity that people had about God language and opening up to a little less reactivity about that. I would say that it was for some people more successful than other people. And I think in our movement, that’s probably true as a whole, that there’s still some anxiety about people holding maybe more traditional theistic views, more traditional adherence to Christianity, and it is my hope, based on my experience of the experience of others in our movement, that we will continue to advocate for our being a very big tent and a very open place for people to hold a wide variety of theological positions.

LGBTQIA Ministers and Partners moderated by Dee Graham

Lindi Ramsden, Lucy Hitchcock, Carlton Smith, and Craig Matheus

TRANSCRIPT:

Susan Rowley:

So I guess that’s my cue to begin our panel for this morning. As you can- Pardon?

Speaker 3:

We’ll get it.

Susan Rowley:

They’re working on it.

Susan Rowley:

All right. That’s my morning voice, but I can’t complain because Lindi is here and coming to us from California and it’s a lot earlier in the morning for her than it is for me. So we are delighted to bring you the second panel of the Yerba Conference and as you can see, we are highly technically and evolved here today. So we’re excited. I’m stepping in to moderate for Dee who was unable to attend and we’re all pulling together here. So this is going to be very cool. Oh, in case you don’t know me, I’m Susan Rowley Rak. And our panelists today are Lucy Hitchcock, Craig Mathews, Lindi Ramsden via Zoom and Carlton Elliott Smith. And we will follow the same pattern as we did yesterday with the panelists giving a… I will read a brief introduction and then they will be able to speak more deeply about why they’re here.

Susan Rowley:

So we’ll start with Lucy Hitchcock. Lucy grew up in New York, a Presbyterian and a girl scout. She married Charlie Miller, had two sons, became a religious educator and attended summer school at Starr King. Her marriage ended, followed by a few more relationships with men. She entered Starr King School for the Ministry where she met Patricia Woodward. While searching openly for a settlement and being continuously turned down, Pat came down with leukemia and died. In 1983, while partnership with Tamar Jad and in the closet, Lucy served in Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota. After a year, Tamar joined her and she came out. There were some trying moments, but it all worked out. Lucy has since worked for the UUA, served in extension positions on the West Coast and ended her career with a healthy settlement in Miami, Florida. She had a commuter marriage for 11 years and is now single and retired living in Sill Work.

Lucy Hitchcock:

I’m glad to be with you to contribute to this transformative period in our history. I’ve been so moved many times since coming in. It feels like a return to another life in a way, but it’s been very rewarding. I came to Starr King and you’ll hear a little bit of repetition now. I came to Starr King in 1973 from Corvallis, Oregon where I was part time RE director. My mother died in 1972 and I was divorced in ’73, after a 10 year marriage with two school age sons. This was an era of emancipation and enlightenment and taking on patriarchy. It became essential that the courses in seminary alter their content and that women join the faculty courses in women’s literature, urban mock studies, goddesses and Mary Daily’s rewrite of theology proliferated.

Lucy Hitchcock:

At Starr King, we initiated The Aurelia Henry Reinhardt professorship and gained enough funding for the beginning of supporting it and it was to be filled by a woman. Seven Bay area women came together to start Chapel Street women’s meeting house, which included renting space for it. It was to explore women’s spirituality and communities, virtual community and practice new forms of worship. The content and style of ministry graduates helped to bring to congregations changed. Although I had several more liaisons with men, learning became my focus at Starr King. Close to graduation, Pat Woodward and I met at a psychodrama class, became lovers not without strife as we work towards living together. In this era of examining everything, loving and being loved by a woman felt very natural and very good to me.

Lucy Hitchcock:

I remember no hardship and letting people at Starr King know and I also notified my former husband and children that I didn’t have a problem there. My parents were deceased, I had no siblings. So it was as if I slip by coming out. I didn’t have many experiences. After ordination in 1978, I entered the search process. I was open about being in a relationship with a woman. My name was sent out to 11 congregations, full time and part time. I pre-candidated at several, all over the country. I was not chosen to be their minister. Some were explicit about not being ready for a lesbian minister. When asked if I would be willing to change my mind about being lesbian so then I could come. One said that a California type was not appropriate for their minister.

Lucy Hitchcock:

Meanwhile, Pat, who was a recovering alcoholic and who received a master’s in addiction counseling, apprenticed as a carpenter and took a job in heavy construction, climbing up high on the scaffolding and wearing a hardhat. She loved being one of the guys, but soon I had to leave the search process for over two years, because Pat was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. Chemotherapy drained her and in the end did not work. Her fighting spirit and her startling sense of humor kept her and her caregivers going. An older friend of Pat’s took us into her home. Pat returned to Catholicism with a very kind priest to encourage pastoral calls. Her family whom she had never told about her lesbian lifestyle, came for a visit from Detroit.

Lucy Hitchcock:

Pat and I being together was accepted by them and this was an important step for Pat. Interestingly, during her illness, Pat transformed from being butch to being increasingly fem. She even took to wearing a skirt, which if you had known her was amazing. She died at Teresa’s home, surrounded by friends. Her Memorial service was at a Catholic church in Berkeley. The women of Patrick Travesty carried her ashes to a bluff above the Pacific ocean. In 1987, I was invited by Bill Schulz to be part of the president’s colloquium at general assembly. And the topic is the body, the primordial sacraments. I wrote it as what I called narrative theology as a poem of tribute to Patricia Woodward. By request of the editors of this book, which is Redefining Sexual Ethics, it was published.

Lucy Hitchcock:

I had been rereading some of this and I read it stated, but I recommend you look at it. Given our topic, it’s very good. And it might actually give you some suggestions for the way our book comes together that we’re talking about. It has some good ideas. The poem begins. My lover’s bones lie scattered on a hillside in Mendocino County. It is a place made sacred by the pilgrimages of her friends. It took time to mourn, to discern what would come next. A caring friend, Tamar Jad became a new partner. I knew I wanted to leave the Bay Area. Too many attractions. Too many memories. I wanted a simpler life. A purpose, a vocation. Joe Goodwin came to the Bay Area to tell us about the new Extension Ministry Program and I got interested. Having gone to college in Minnesota, I applied, but, in the closet, Tamar and I agreed that I would go alone.

Lucy Hitchcock:

I was appointed, went to lead the congregation, was accepted and in 1983 moved to Fargo and his work. A two third, one third split, two houses, two old cars and took the bus 200 miles in between. Wonderful Midwestern folk. Fun to be a minister in congregations that wanted to grow, was involved with peace work, abortion rights and led classes in economic justice. The congregations grew. But after a year I was lonely for Tamar. She moved, we came out. Some congregants felt betrayed. Why hadn’t I told them before coming? Some thought that the reputation of the Bismark Fellowship would be ruined. One woman said that if she was seen out having lunch with me, she would be thought to be lesbian. This is conservative. It’s a conservative state and Bismark more so than Fargo.

Lucy Hitchcock:

Sid Peterman, district executive came to both congregations to be the you a standing behind me and it worked. No one left. They accepted Tamar. I was there two and a half years but I left early for the UUA, to teach others what I learned about growing congregations. Tamar and I ended our partnership after our move to Boston. Since then, I’ve been partnered, celibate and in a commuter marriage for 11 years to a very black male Muslim organic farmer from Senegal with two other wives. That’s a different story. I’ve been blessed with loving friendships and intimate relations with men and women in my long life. I’m not particularly wanting to be labeled as lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, in some way that nothing fits and it’s not my central identity has a person.

Lucy Hitchcock:

I’m a mother, grandmother, minister, gardener and social activist now dedicated to saving our planet from global warming and mass extinctions.

Susan Rowley:

Thank you Lucy. We’re going down the list as I was given it. So next we’ll hear from Craig Mathews. Craig Mathews was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1951. He originally wanted to become a teacher, but when he realized he was gay, he thought he wouldn’t be fit to teach young people. So he left college in his junior year and worked at several jobs including his last at Northwestern Mutual Insurance. He met Tony Larson in 1984 at a gay bar in Milwaukee. They began a lifetime commitment in 1985 and had a unity ceremony on their seventh anniversary. Tony and Craig did not have any printed invitations or orders of service for this ceremony because Craig’s teaching career was just beginning. Craig and Tony are celebrating their 35th anniversary this fall. Craig, let’s here from you.

Craig Mathews:

Okay. Yes, I’m Tony’s husband and if you know Tony, I feel that I have to start with a humorous story. This is kind of folklore of our relationship. I knew Tony when I met Tony in a leather bar. I knew he was a minister, but I wasn’t sure what that all entails. So on our second date, we’re sitting in a restaurant and you’re just getting to know somebody and Tony looks at me and says, “Would you like to see me formulate the quadratic equation?” And I went, “Sure. Why not?” When we told this story to someone in our church at Olympia Brown, they yelled out, “And there was a third date?” So yes, there was a third date. There were many more dates.

Craig Mathews:

When deciding what to talk about, I thought I would talk about my personal experience in a medium size Wisconsin city of being diagnosed in heavy AIDS. And it had good experiences and then some that were not so good. In the beginning of the ’90s, we had planned a trip to Europe and it was a wonderful trip. But on that trip I started to be just not feeling great. I was tired and I couldn’t do a lot of the things. When we got home from this trip, I felt great. I felt fine. And I thought, “Well, it was the stress of being traveling in a foreign country.” About a year later, I did not feel so fine and I started to get a rash on my body and I was really tired and I had a difficult time controlling my bodily functions.

Craig Mathews:

So after talking with some people we thought I would go the route of… They said, “But are you allergic to something?” And I said, “I don’t think so.” So I went to an allergist, was a wonderful doctor and we were looking into allergies and things that might be affecting my health. And after one session with him, he said, well… He gave me the allergy shots and I couldn’t make it out of the office. I sat in the office and I couldn’t go from the office to the car. So I thought, “Wow, this is more than an allergy.” And he was a wonderful person. He came out and he saw me after sitting in the office for half an hour and 45 minutes and said, “I have a name of a doctor, I want you to see.” He recommended I go to my doctor who was wonderful, and he said, “I’ll make sure you get in to see the doctor right away,” which that just doesn’t happen even in the small town.

Craig Mathews:

So I called the doctor, the next day I had an appointment, and we went through all the tests and blood tests and things. And then he suggested I also get a chest X-ray. So I did. I went to the basement of the hospital and got my chest X-rayed. Later on in the day, I received a phone call from the nurse who did the chest X-ray. It was sort of clandestine. She said, “I’m really not supposed to be talking to you and I shouldn’t tell you this, but I think you have pneumocystis fibrosis.” Well, I mean, I knew that was a serious pneumonia that I had, but it’s hard as this is to believe as she’s telling me, it still wasn’t dawning on me that I had AIDS. That I was HIV positive. I just, “Oh, okay. Thank you.” Late the next day the doctor called and I hope they’ve changed the way they tell you. He told me over the phone.

Craig Mathews:

He said, “Oh, and the test came in and you’re positive, dah, dah, dah. I want to see you tomorrow.” Well, I’m in tears crying in the phone. Tony knew something real heard me crying, came into the room and we both cried for hours. So I went through the whole process and got drugs. Luckily for me, this was at the time when the drug therapy was changing. People, before me had to do these incredibly complicated drug cocktails or they would take sometimes up to 10, 20 pills and all sorts of different times. I did not have to do that because the Food and Drug Administration said that they would release some of the newer drugs without the testing that I could take them. That was right at the end of AZT and AZT was not working.

Craig Mathews:

And I remember we were in a vacation in New York City and again, I felt really tired. Things would go, spots were coming back. And I remember being in the hotel room, sitting there going, “AZT is not working.” And luckily at the time, the next visit to the doctor, I got different drugs. So I only had to take two pills once a day, which is a great thing. And they said that my viral load dropped. Originally, my viral load, which I call the bad numbers, was up to like 3,500 or just this incredible number. It’s supposed to be zero. Pretty much through the last 20 some years, my viral load has been zero, which is wonderful. It’s just great. And my T-cell count has stayed at about 500. Recently, that’s gone up.

Craig Mathews:

Unfortunately, the last time I went to see the doctor, he said, “Well, your viral load is no longer zero.” I said, “Oh.” Thinking it would be like two or something. And he said, “Well, we don’t worry about it until it gets to 200, then I’ll start looking at you.” And I said, “Well, where is it?” He said, “175.” I said, “Well, that’s close enough for me.” He said, “No, no, this will be a slower process.” And I trust him. He’s been just wonderful. So we’re waiting. A negative story about all this. When I first was diagnosed and I was filling my first prescription, we were at a large pharmacy. I won’t say which pharmacy, and we’re sitting in the lobby. I’d given the pharmacist the prescription. They took it and said to have the seat. In my mind, it was like that room was full of as many people as you and I’m sure there were maybe like six or seven people in the lobby.

Craig Mathews:

The pharmacists’ worker came to the window and instead of just calling me up, said, “Who’s here for the AZT?” And we both kind of freaked. We don’t go to that pharmacy anymore. Immediately, we didn’t go there. And I know that’s a reason for HIPAA laws. And every time I get a little annoyed with the HIPAA law, I remember that experience. So the other thing that I think is a big issue, and I don’t have much more information about it because I had a really good experience. I was a teacher and I had great health insurance and I had a great policy through my union. I had great benefits through my union that when I first was diagnosed, I couldn’t teach for a month, which is longer than I had start up for sick days. And the school system I worked for said that’s fine.

Craig Mathews:

Just when you come back we have to have a signed affidavit from your doctor about what was wrong and I was like, “Oh, I just wasn’t thinking, you’re all okay.” So when that affidavit came, the doctor put in HIV and Tony and I saw that and I said, “Well, I can’t be on there. I can’t go back.” I mean, they were a good system, but I don’t know how good they were going to be. And so Tony took that back to the doctor and they changed. They were kind of resistant and it was sort of like, “Come on guys.” And they did change it and they put down community pneumonia, which I just remembered. And then my school system just took me back and it was great. But any expense that I have experienced has been covered under my great insurance at the time and now under Medicare.

Craig Mathews:

So that’s another big issue I think with healthcare and people that don’t have access to that. I mean, I don’t know what we have done if we didn’t have that. So that’s my experience and I see the doctor again in, sometime early November. And the other thing I should say, Tony is not HIV positive. There are many different brands that you can get. I have a less virulent type of HIV, so it’s been relatively easily treatable and not very communicable. So even when I had it, they figured before my diagnosis, I had it for probably 10 years and I wasn’t particularly promiscuous, I don’t think. I think I just had sex, like young men had sex. So we all lucked out. Tony lucked out, even with our sexual activity, he did not get it.

Craig Mathews:

And Tony also had to be tested for it. That was another nerve wracking thing. Oh, another thing that we did that was nerve wracking, it’s all this stuff that it’s happening to you and you’re really like, “Oh, my goodness.” And it was okay. I understood now, we had to go to the public health office in Racine, which was in the basement of the city hall. And it’s like you’ve just been diagnosed with this disease. You think you’re going to die and now a public health nurse is taking your name down as a public risk or something just as a record. She was wonderful. She was really a wonderful person. She just knew how to handle it and I think she lives down the hall from us. So now at her condo where we live and she’s just a really nice neighbor. So that is my personal story of living with AIDS, living with HIV in a medium sized town in Wisconsin. I have other stories.

Speaker 7:

We want to hear the dirt on Tony.

Craig Mathews:

What?

Speaker 7:

We want to hear the dirt on Tony.

Craig Mathews:

Well, I’ve got one more goofy story. This is bad. We’re like maybe our third date. And again, I knew he was a minister, but I was not a Unitarian. I was raised ALC Lutheran, the good ones. And so again, we’re in a restaurant and he looks at me and he said, “Are you religious?” And I thought, “Come on, he’s a minister.” And then I thought, “Well, if we want this relationship to go anywhere, I should be honest.” And I said, “No.” And he said, “Oh, good. Neither am I.” And apparently he had had several… Sometimes I think people are attracted to ministers and then there’s a whole, they’re more religious than the minister. So anyways, so that’s the only other dirt I have. Otherwise, I have to say this, having a partner is better than life insurance, having a partner who’s there to take care of you and it’s just incredible. So thank you.

Susan Rowley:

Thank you Craig.

Thank you.

Susan Rowley:

Thank you. Moving right along. We’ll get to questions eventually, but this is just wonderful sharing and hearing each other’s stories. Resuming into Lindi Ramsden. Lindi was ordained in 1985 at the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, California. Lindi went on to serve that congregation for 17 years. During the following decade, she served as the executive director and senior minister of the UU Legislative Ministry of California, engaging California UUs in organizing an advocacy on behalf of marriage equality, immigration reform, and securing the human right to water. Currently she is working on the staff and faculty of Starr King as Director of Partnerships and Emerging Programs and is the assistant visiting professor of faith and public life.

Susan Rowley:

Her personal calling during her final years in ministry is to better prepare seminarians to more effectively serve during a time of increasing climate disruption. She and her spouse, Mary Ellen, were married in a religious ceremony in 1992 and they were able to make it legal in 2008. They feel blessed to be parents of a grown son who embodies his Unitarian Universalist values. Lindi.

Lindi Ramsden:

I am trying to reduce my carbon footprint. So I’ve been taking the train lately and it’s a long trip from California to you guys and back. So I really appreciate being able to join you remotely. When they sent out the invitation to talk, there was a question about how you’ve noticed some experiences in your own life might have impacted the arc of Unitarian Universalism. And I feel like I’m sort of a reluctant lesbian. Lucy’s comment about it not being central to my identity kind of hits home to me in a certain way. It is my identity and so it is central and obviously my family is central, but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do in ministry necessarily. But in watching what happened over time, I do feel like I’ve seen ways in which the UUA ended up setting a boundary around how our congregations were going to deal with us as candidates through ministry.

Lindi Ramsden:

And I also saw that the work around rights for gay and lesbian and later bisexual and transgender folk help to strengthen and move us into more regional and statewide kinds of collaboration. So in my own story, about 50 years ago, 1969, I was a sophomore in high school, I was an active member of a UCC congregation and I was already thinking about ministry. And I remembered going to the Northern California conference in the United Church of Christ in Asilomar, a place known to the UUs as well. And Bill Johnson, who in 1972 became the first openly gay person to be ordained in a Christian denomination was a very important part of that conference. And I remember feeling very supportive of his cause. He was having a difficult time finding a place to actually serve in ministry. But I didn’t realize at the time that it would become so relevant to my own life.

Lindi Ramsden:

And then once I got to college, I basically studied my way out of Protestantism and I also figured out I wasn’t straight. And the combination of those two revelations about myself, I thought, “Well, I guess I’ll just set aside my plans for ministry.” It didn’t seem like it was something that could happen with integrity. And so I changed from studying religious studies to human biology, which was another way of, “Isn’t life amazing and how does it all work?” But I still had this deeper pole and questions of meaning and purpose and in my life. And as luck have it, my friend and mentor Ann Heller enrolled at Starr King and I started meeting people like Lucy and others and Mark. I came to know her seminary friends and just witnessing their depth of spirit and intelligence and rollicking creativity.

Lindi Ramsden:

And the fact that several of them were gay or lesbian signaled that there was a seminary where the door could be open to someone like me, both someone who was a lesbian and who was not theologically in the street in their own. So I kept my day job and enjoyed seminary. Not so much thinking that I was preparing for careers. I was watching folks like Lucy and Anne and Barbara have a difficult time finding a place to actually serve. I just went from my own spiritual growth and kept working at my job, so as not to end up in debt. But in 1983 at the invitation of Rah Beller Isaac, I was offered the opportunity to serve as an intern minister at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. And there I really had the opportunity to fall in love with the power and possibility of parish life all over again.

Lindi Ramsden:

So I decided to go ahead and throw my hat in the ring and see if there was a parish ministry where I could work. And there wasn’t much luck going through the normal channels. So similar to Lucy’s story, except that I was able to actually be out of the closet when I applied. The Extension Ministry Program was what got me placed in the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, which was at the time a small struggling congregation. I think their pledge base was like $28,000 or something at the time. It’s a beautiful building, but they had fallen on hard times as a congregation. In watching on Chuck Gaines in particular, who had attended what we called the fruit bowl, there was a gathering at the Unitarian Church in Oakland during that period of time where the UUA was really trying to figure out what to do. Because they felt like there was talent staying on the table that wasn’t able to be put to use in good service to our congregations, because people were afraid to have gay or lesbian ministers there.

Lindi Ramsden:

And I feel like the UUA just really decided at that point they were going to figure out a way to make it go forward. And so the Extension Ministry helped to place some of us. And then a few years later, Jackie James and myself and others put together what was called the Beyond Categorical Thinking Program at the time, which was in some ways an early step into intersectionality. We just didn’t have the language. I didn’t have the language anyway for it at that time. And they’d send us out in teams of two, representing different kinds of folk, people of color, LGBT people, older people, disabled people, to work with search committees to help them deal with all of their internal conscious and unconscious biases before they were able to get a list from the UUA. So this was the UUA in my mind stepping forward to move us into a different place.

Lindi Ramsden:

But as I said, I feel like I was interested when I got to the church more in the sanctuary movement, other kinds of things that were going on. But our church ended up winning this award. It was the OEG and Pickard Award on church growth and the local San Jose Mercury News wanted to do an article about the church. And I thought it would be just like a small article in the corner, but one of the things I wondered about was how the people actually felt about having a lesbian minister and whether they felt like they were ready to be public. I remember my mom and dad, when our son was born and adopted, it was one thing that they were accepting of me as a lesbian in our family, but then they started telling their friends that they were grandparents.

Lindi Ramsden:

And so there was a way in which they had to come out to their friends as well as a result of that. So by the fact that our church was going to be acknowledged in the local newspaper, meant that the people in the congregation had to take another step in a way of coming out. Like, I’m a person that goes to a congregation like that, which right now sounds like really a ridiculous thing to be worried about. But back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, in California, we had the Briggs Initiative, which was essentially trying to quarantine people with AIDS. We had another initiative that was trying to prevent people from being teachers if they were gay or lesbian. There were two ballot measures in San Jose which overturned by very large majorities, protections that had been put in place for LGBT people by the city council and board of supervisors.

Lindi Ramsden:

So it was a very hot political climate. And I had not preached much at all in the first three or four years that I was in ministry about LGBT related issues other than to not be in the closet about having a female partner and our son. In part, because I had heard from women ministers who had broken the gender barrier in ministry prior to me, talk about how if you preached on feminism more than a couple of times you’d be accused of being a single issue person. They’re like I wanted to be a single issue person, but here I was about to have this article in the paper. And I thought, “I better ask these folks what they think.” And so at the very end of the service, I just stopped and I explained what was happening.

Lindi Ramsden:

And I asked them, I said, “So how do you feel about doing this article together?” Which in a way was another layer of coming out for the congregation and people just rose up and started clapping. And it was the most amazing affirmation of their willingness to go to Hewlett Packer and go to wherever they were working and feel like they were in the paper. And so we went ahead and at the time there was a large religion and ethics section in the newspaper, two full pages, if you can imagine that in this day and age. So there was this gigantic article about us as a family and the church. And the next day there were 100 new people in church. This was from a very small congregation. They called themselves the people of the article.

Lindi Ramsden:

So there we were together and we kept up, which led into additional engagement in terms of social justice work. I remember when proposition 22 was placed on the ballot in California which was trying to amend the family code to prohibit same sex marriage in California, this was in year 2000. And Rob Hardies was, I think a student minister at the time or just a student at Starr King and went around and organized a bunch of the Bay Area congregations to take out a collective ad against this, which was one of the first times that I saw local congregations really putting themselves into essentially what was a political sphere. When I was working on the statewide effort to defeat prop 22. And when they found out that our congregations had agreed to do this and they were putting it in the San Francisco Chronicle two weeks before the election, basically what they said to me was, “Are you nuts? You have that much money? Could we please spend in Modesto? Anybody who reads the San Francisco Chronicle already knows how they’re voting two weeks before the election.”

Lindi Ramsden:

And I thought, “You’re absolutely right. I don’t disagree with that,” but what this was in many ways was less an effective ministry on our own, but more of a statement to ourselves of being willing to step ahead, be public and organize together. And I feel like that initial effort, while it was flawed in some ways also led to what eventually became the UU legislative ministry in California, which later led to our being very much involved as the leading organization. Because we had a 501C4 as well as a 501C3, to coordinate the No on prop 8 campaign in California among all the faith communities. So our little tiny office, we were like drinking from a fire hose trying to figure out how to do all this, was responsible for 13 different phone banks and outreach efforts.

Lindi Ramsden:

In terms of educating around marriage equality, it was absolutely nuts. And we learned a lot in the process, but I feel like the marriage equality movement in some ways took a hold of our congregations, because it was something they felt like they had a personal interest in. And move them into another layer of social justice engagement and political activism. As was mentioned in my introduction that Susan read, I did get married to Mary Helen in 1992, thanks to Mark Bellatini and Harry Scofield in a ceremony that wasn’t legal. But in the little window between when marriage equality was declared legal by the court report in California and before Proposition 8 passed six months later, which voided everything. We did finally get to make it legal and we weren’t sure where we should get married.

Lindi Ramsden:

We already had a wedding. We just wanted to make it legal. But secretary of state, Debra Bowen was a Unitarian Universalist who had grown up in Illinois and she had been helpful to us in the UU legislative ministry. So I called her up and I said, “Any chance you would consider doing this for us in a small private ceremony?” And so sure enough she said yes. And my son and my mom and Mary Helen and I got married overlooking the Capitol on the first day that you could be married in June of 2008 and Secretary Bowen made it legal. And I felt like finally that part is done. Let’s move on to working on some of the other things that I care about. So there are many more stories to tell. Governor Schwarzenegger, all kinds of variety of things, but I’ll save those for later in questions and answers. And thank you for listening.

Susan Rowley:

And our fourth panelist is Carlton Elliot Smith. Carlton is one of 11 members of the UUA Southern region congregational life staff, based out of Holly Springs, Mississippi, his hometown. He was recently a candidate for the state senate. As such, he was endorsed as a spotlight candidate by the LGBTQ victory fund. Ordained into UU ministry in 1995. He has been a parish minister in Metro New York, Greater Boston, Northern Virginia, and Oakland, California. Carlton was one of the original members of the black lives of UU organizing collective and had the vision that led to the $5.3 million bequest, requests that Blue made of the UUA board. A commitment which was fulfilled this summer. Carlton.

Carlton Elliott Smith:

Thank you, Susan. And I’m very grateful to be part of this panel. So I’ll share three brief stories as my contribution to the UU LGBTQ IAA history archive all in the last few years. Story one, the record should reflect that three of the original members of the organizing collective of black lives of Unitarian Universalism, also known as Blue, were LGBTQ IAA. Lina Catherine Gardner, now Blue’s executive director, Andrea Williams, now co-moderator of the UUA and me. I attended the movement for black lives convening otherwise known as the M for BL at Cleveland State University in July of 2015, as a member of the UUS congregation on my staff and with the support of multicultural group, the multicultural growth and witness office, MGW.

Carlton Elliott Smith:

My task was to informally organize the UUs in attendance of which there were about a dozen out of 1400 participants. Out of three meal time meetings with a handful of black UUs sprouted a movement for reform inside the UUA. After months of intense organizing and imagining among those of us in the organizing collective, Leslie McFadden now on the UUA board and I, made the proposal to the UUA in October of 2016, that resulted in its commitment to raise/donate 5.3 million to Blue. Though I discontinued my involvement in Blue by the end of that year, I’m grateful for all the ways that Blue has caused growth and transformation in our association, in our congregations, and in individuals including myself.

Carlton Elliott Smith:

Story number two, the record should reflect that one of the UUs on the front lines of the clergy counter protest to the unite the right rally in Charlottesville, August 12th, 2017, was a gay black minister from Mississippi Unitarian Universalist. That was me. Congregate Charlottesville, a group of local clergy had sent out the call for clergy from across the nation to join them in opposing the radically racist national gathering happening in their city. UUA president, Susan Frederick Grey had committed to being there. I was already in Virginia with my Southern region teammates at a leadership training event the week before and drove up to Charlottesville picking up Reverend Susan from the airport.

Carlton Elliott Smith:

There are many details of that weekend, but this one stands out. Those of us who marched, were well aware that when we stepped out onto the streets that Saturday morning, we were at risk of being severely injured and even killed. I locked arms with Dr. Cornell West on my left and Reverend Susan was a few people to his left. We prayed, chanted and sang in front of the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park, as wave after wave of supremacists taunted us upon their arrival. Heather Heyer was murdered that afternoon when a racist plowed his car into pedestrian counter protestors. Reverend Susan and I were just driving away when that chaos erupted. We knew that, that could have been us.

Carlton Elliott Smith:

Story number three. The records should reflect that with tremendous moral support and substantial financial support from UUA colleagues and UUMA colleagues, clergy and otherwise, a gay black union minister became a significant candidate among North Mississippi Democrats starting with the 2018 midterm elections. I ran for US Congress seeking to represent Mississippi’s first congressional district. However, I failed to make an important deadline and didn’t make it onto the ballot. I ran for State Senate District 10 in 2019, placing second in each of the two constituent counties, but third overall. Nonetheless, I gained the endorsement of the LGBTQ victory fund as was previously mentioned and outbound raise the other three candidates combined by a factor of 20.

Carlton Elliott Smith:

All that I learned and all the contacts I made during the incomplete congressional campaign became the foundation for an exceptional run in the state senate campaign. I applied for another election and very grateful for the opportunities that call me forward. I’m currently a member of the LGBTQ Victory Fund Campaign Board, which identifies recruits and fundraisers for LGBTQ candidates.

Susan Rowley:

Thank you Carlton. Now we only have about 20 minutes before it’s break time. And I noticed I had a list of questions similar to the questions that were asked yesterday and a lot of what’s in the questions has been covered in what’s been shared. But I’d like to put it out there, because our panelists experiences have been very different with respect to congregational life and public life and personal life. And so I’m going to throw it out to you to try to make sense of this question. In your experience, what problems have arisen inside congregations as much as you know inside congregations that appear to be linked to this or whatever organizations you’re been part of, that appear to be linked to discriminatory attitudes against ministers or their partners who are LGBTQ IA.

Susan Rowley:

Such as accusations of preferential hiring or refusing to accept you as their minister or refusing to include you as a partner as part of the social life of the congregation or microaggressions you might’ve experienced. And this might be stuff long ago in the past, but it’s things we need to capture and it might be things you’ve experienced recently, like last week. Anyone.

Lucy Hitchcock:

My answer’s not really-

Susan Rowley:

Go with it. I mean here. Go.

Lucy Hitchcock:

My answer’s really to a different question. I’m sorry.

Susan Rowley:

No, do it.

Lucy Hitchcock:

But I really want to say it. I became the Extension Ministry Programs director at the UUA and I was very aware of how hard had been for me to get a congregation. And I knew about all of these categories you’ve heard of that were affecting who was coming into the ministry and that really impacted congregations and how they met folks that were applying. In the extension department, it’s a different settlement process. So I would visit the congregations, get to know who they were, meet the ministers who were applying and make matches. And the congregations needed to know that I could not discriminate on the basis of any of these categories. So I would make my first visit to the congregation would be to explain this to them and I started a process, you’ve heard about elsewhere.

Lucy Hitchcock:

I had index cards that were green and pink and I asked the members of the congregation, after explaining who was in the pool, on the green cards, what would be positive about having any of these folks come to your congregation, who were gay persons of color, had disabilities, were female. It was very female. Females were just coming in to the ministry and then on the pink card, anything that they felt was difficult for them or for their community, for their congregation, and to write it. And all of this was anonymous. They passed the cards back in. And after a break I would read back to them what they had written.

Lucy Hitchcock:

There were very positive things said. People were excited to be on the forefront of inviting different categories to be their minister. Some of them were cautionary about their community, their community would have a very difficult time accepting someone who was gay or someone who was African American. And some of them were repugnant, the only word I can say. They were blunt, they were candid. And in a sense that was good because we knew who was there. This was especially true for African American ministers, somewhat true for gay and lesbians. And it was impactful to me, certainly and the UUA to realize what was out there and what we had to deal with. I put that in because that was the beginning of what became categorical thinking, was extension was able to bring this because we could not discriminate.

Lucy Hitchcock:

I also want to mention that the UUA was brave in many ways and the staff was really behind all of this. And we also started new congregations that were planted in African-American areas for African American ministers. And this gets lost sometimes, but there was a lot of funding for that. And they were also supportive, as you’ve heard before, through lesbian ministers and so forth. But they invested, with the beach money behind it, I can’t say what’s happened to all of those congregations, but we were trying our best to do something really revolutionary within our movement, to change the character of who was out there and how we served.

Susan Rowley:

And that was when? ’80s?

Lucy Hitchcock:

I went in ’85, I went. So it was the late ’80s that this was beginning. Well, the new congregations began before that, with Tom Chulack and John Morgan and so forth.

Carlton Elliott Smith:

Yes. And I would add that I was one of those extension persons as well. I came into the association through Alma Faith Crawford. Actually it was one of my classmates at Howard University School of Divinity. I went to Sojourner Truth Congregation, which was an extension congregation at the time. [inaudible 00:55:13] and maybe as far as [inaudible 00:55:15] our professor at Howard was speaking there. And I saw the principles and that is what really inspired me and said, “I could go for a religion like this.” I was wearing out my welcome at the Pentecostal Church I was attending as a young adult. But I’m thinking about like… So it cuts both ways because I knew from Alma at the time that the Extension Ministry Program was intentional about welcoming in ministers of color and other marginalized groups.

Carlton Elliott Smith:

So there were some doors that opened as a result of that. And then once inside the system it’s like, oh, but not, all those doors aren’t as open as they look from the outside. It was what I found out. So as the hymn in our hymnal says join a wall or woven fine, so I can see that those two things kind of intertwined. I know that when I worked at the Hollis Unitarian Church in Queens, the older members there were concerned that I was trying to turn it into a gay church. and that was a bit of a stressor. And I think there’s a way in which for ministers of color and other marginalized groups, there are yet ways in which we are experimented with, that doesn’t necessarily happen with other ministers.

Carlton Elliott Smith:

So there’s a risk people are willing to take with that. So I’ll just give like a little example. There was a point at which I was serving as assistant interim minister in Arlington, Massachusetts and there was another minister, Chester McCall who was serving as assistant interim minister at another congregation in San Diego, if I’m not mistaken. And so the question was, well, if you already have a congregation that’s willing to accept an interim minister as a person of color and there’s difficulty placing people of color anyway, well, why not give those congregations an opportunity to have that minister, that interim assistant serve in that position.

Carlton Elliott Smith:

So there was a temporary suspension of the three year rule, so the reason this could apply for those positions for two years. And that’s how I ended up being at Arlington Mass for a total of six years instead of the initial two that I was interim. Chester ended up not going to San Diego. I don’t know exactly what happened there. Then the second year came around and there was yet another minister who had the possibility of continuing on in that interim position. No, of applying for a settled position, even though he started out as an interim, put it that way. And that didn’t go very well. And I don’t think there was ever any real follow-up to see like how all of that played out. Even for me in my situation, I would say out of those three situations, mine turned out the best, but it was no cakewalk either.

Carlton Elliott Smith:

So I think we need to acknowledge that, yeah, we still get experimented with and there are not particularities in ways that other ministers don’t. And that suspension applied for ministers of color serving as assistant ministers of religious education. It wasn’t a big top position. You couldn’t be like one of those top positions and get that. So there was a ceiling, of course.

Craig Mathews

Well, my experience at Olympia Brown Church was that they were-

Craig Mathews:

… in Wisconsin, is that there were… In my church, that Olympia Brown church, they were very supportive-

Speaker 3:

Louder.

Speaker 4:

We can’t hear [

Craig Mathews:

That the Olympia Brown Church that I went to-

Speaker 3:

It’s still low.

Craig Mathews:

No.

Speaker 4:

It’s not close enough.

Craig Mathews:

All right. Now we got it up. That the Olympia Brown Church was very supportive. But I have to also be honest and say I never told the entire congregation about my health status like I’m telling you. And I told friends and I mean a significant number of people knew, they were very supportive. And then the other big credit, my life as a teacher, I was really active in the Racine Unified Teachers Union as a building rep for 10 years. They were so supportive and they had all kinds of things in place for someone like me or other people who were not going to have traditional things happen in their lives. And one of the things was I taught fifth grade and a parent went to my principal. Now I never told the kids. The kids would say things like, “Are you married?” And I would say, “No, are you?” And then they were just…

Craig Mathews:

So it never became like an issue with either the family or the administration, but I just think after you were teaching at the same place for 20 years, they know you. Anyways, a parent, went to the principal in my building and said, he did not want his daughter to have me because he knew and the principal who never did this kind of thing said, “Okay, I’ll take your daughter out of the class.” And then he said, “Thank you, I would like to thank you for that.”, “Oh, don’t do that. I didn’t do it for you, I did it for the teacher. He doesn’t need to deal with this.” Where that came from, from that principal, I have absolutely no idea, but it was great. I mean the union was so supportive. One time we were going on vacation and my pills were running out and the person from the school said I had to tell her what she would put down to let me get my medicine out earlier.

Craig Mathews:

But she had to know what it was for and what the things were. And I knew her and I didn’t think that she was going to do anything bad with that information, but I thought, “Really? It’s not your business.” So I went to the union people and they went and talked to her and all I had to do is give them numbers. So unionism and insurance are just so important and they both seem to be, I think it’s really been attacked in Wisconsin and Racine in particular. And we all know what’s happening with insurance. It’s just such an issue. So that’s my experience with the two important parts of my life.

Speaker 3:

Craig, could you tell about the parent that didn’t want the kid and then you taught them family life?

Craig Mathews:

Oh, that was another cool thing that district did was they had helping teachers and you could go to those when you first were starting. They would come to you and they’d say, “What would you like me to teach for you?” And you could pick math or science or whatever and they would do a couple of lessons. Well, this was right after I had come back from my illness and family life was coming up and I was the male teacher. So I got family life for all the boys. And so the helping teacher came and said, “What would you like?” And I said, “Would you teach family life for me,” and it was six, one hour lessons and he came every day and taught all the family life for me. And I’m pretty sure he was gay also, but it was just wonderful. Is that what you meant?

Speaker 3:

No, the dad who didn’t want his kid taught by you got family life by you.

Craig Mathews:

Oh, yeah, that’s right. The parent that complained about me did eventually I had to teach his child family life.

Susan Rowley:

How did that go?

Craig Mathews:

I mean, fifth graders are little kids there. It’s not like the topic they’re going to be real vocal about anyways. So it turned out to be fine and we have a strong and very accurate AIDS part of the curriculum, which was a little bit hard to teach once I had to turn to the chalkboard and just kind of like pull it together and then turn back. And that was again, I think all because of the union and teachers are wonderful people. Anyway, so I had to know who out there as a teacher or with a teacher. I mean, they’re pretty with it in general.

Susan Rowley:

So there are-

Susan Rowley:

Pardon.

Lindi Ramsden:

I was just going to add in a word. I felt like in my own congregation, I was just incredibly warmly welcomed. I think that was I’m white, I don’t come across as gender queer. There’s so many class and racial issues that I didn’t have to carry with me as I went into ministry. So I felt like that made it easier for me. When I look at students now coming out of Starr King and the young folks who are very much more identifying as non-binary, as gender fluid, as trans, as gender queer. There’s a whole other layer of work going on there that needs to be done within our congregations as people try and understand who they are and get their minds around simple things like pronouns and more complex things around the nature of reality.

Lindi Ramsden:

And when that intersects with other things, race, disability, some of our folks really have amazing talent and reminds me of our own earlier story of trying to step across some of those barriers to be able to be taken in and respected fully as ministers and community. I did feel like in the larger community, it was always a moment about trying to decide when to come out, and when not to come out. But when we started the Spanish speaking ministry in the San Jose Church, it was actually connecting in many ways with the Spanish speaking LGBT community. So I felt like it created a positive linkage and one of the most amazing experiences in my own ministry was helping to facilitate and owning your religious past weekend for Spanish speaking LGBT folks, who were really looking at religious wounding and what that meant for them in their lives. And it was just such an amazing privilege to be able to be part of helping to make that happen.

Susan Rowley:

Thank you Lindsay. And that was kind of where I was going to wrap things up because as I was listening to everyone, I was thinking about what we learned from the past, our own experiences and even the very recent past, what does that alert us to for the future? And Lindsay sort of hinted at it with or flat out mentioned it with the new generation coming out of seminary, looking at our congregations, that even more recently how our congregations are reacting to even shifts in language. Even as an interim, setting out a moderator role because I just wanted to share this because they were looking at a packet and their candidate identified as queer.

Susan Rowley:

And as the interim, I had to take them through the whole process of what does queer mean. And I couldn’t define it for the candidate, but I could help unpack their thinking and broaden the scope. And my interim training didn’t explicitly prepare me for that, but that’s the kind of stuff. If anybody has any last thoughts, you want to jump in before we have to take a break, but we’re forced by the clock —

Interview with Doddie Stone, Elizabeth Strong, Tony Larsen, Craig Matheus

Elizabeth S.:

My story actually took place in the ’80s when I was the minister in Syracuse, New York. And many of the young men, gay men were dying of AIDS. And there was only one funeral home who would allow the processing of the body and to have a service. And I was called many, many times. I did two gay services in which I knew one of the men was dying of AIDS. And within six months I was doing those services. I went to the hospital to see one of the men and he was in isolation and he was there and he said he was just freezing but his feet were burning up. And I said to his partner, I said, “He needs a knit cap, because it’ll help keep him a little warm.”

And I’ve visited it a couple of times and one time a nurse came in to deliver medications and I swear to you, she looked like she was ready to launch into outer space. She had the gown on, the gloves on, the mask on, the head covered. And she said to me, “Well, you better not touch him.” And I said, “It’s fine to touch him and I’m here as a minister to be with him at this time.” And so I would say we’ve learned a lot since the ’80s about transmission or being able to comfort, to touch, how to care for. But I really want to iterate that a lot because I think there are still some people who think they can’t touch.

I had an aunt who was a lifelong, extremely devout Baptist, contracted AIDS through a transfusion. Her church was going to refuse her funeral until, I’m going to cry. Until her older son went and said, “How dare you? This family has tithed, has been here all her life.” And they did allow a service. But when I was out at doing a service for another aunt, her daughter who had died of AIDS asked if I would say a prayer at the grave site because no one had done that. And so I did, so that’s my story. And I would say, please honor those who have AIDS and please pray at their funerals and their grave sites.

Craig Matheus:

And I guess I wouldn’t say that. What I think is important for me is that it’s always referred to as the gay plague and that implies that everyone is gone. And I’m here to tell you that everyone is not gone. I’m HIV positive and I know I was fortunate enough to get diagnosed later on. And so when I was diagnosed I was given drugs that were not specifically tested by the FDA, but thought would be effective. So they let me have them without the testing and it saved my life. I think that’s a real important thing. It’s not done. It’s not over. It’s a disease and it continues and that there are people that survive it in many ways, so.

Tony Larsen:

And I would just like to mention that as Craig’s husband now, we just called it partner then, but when we first got together and we were aware of the AIDS crisis was beginning and we both, of course, wondered whether might one of us have HIV. We didn’t know. We didn’t actually want to get tested. We figured, at least at the time there was, it seemed like it was a death sentence. So we would rather not know. However, I did have to get an AIDS test and for probably for insurance or something. And I was really pleased that I came out okay. It was negative because I thought of the two of us, given our lifestyles, I would be the more likely to have it. So if I didn’t have it, Craig obviously wouldn’t have it. And I turned out to be wrong. And so it’s, you can’t always assume that if you one person is more promiscuous than another, that may change the odds. But all it takes is one person. Yeah, one person, so that’s what happened. And so I was surprised when Craig got sick and had some-

Craig Matheus:

When I first got sick, it didn’t even enter my mind.

Tony Larsen:

No.

Craig Matheus:

… my mind that that’s what it was. I just thought, well, I didn’t feel well. I was tired and —

Tony Larsen:

Right. You know what though? We were in Europe when you were first coming down with symptoms. And I remember wearing… I had a couple of tee shirts that said, Fight AIDS, et cetera. And I remember a couple of times being on a bus or a train and when you were coughing really a really bad cough and people were looking at us and figuring it out. And I think that they thought that —

Craig Matheus:

Kind of realized before we did.

Tony Larsen:

Yeah, they knew before we did.

Craig Matheus:

I remember we were in some bakery in London or something, and I started this cough and it was a real serious cough. And the woman said, “When you go back to America you need to have a test.” And I just looked and went, “Oh, okay. I guess I will.”

Tony Larsen:

Yeah. But it was not on our radar. Not at all because I knew that I didn’t have it.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. Craig, would you like to say some more about the difference between calling AIDS a plague and calling it whatever you would call it instead? Can you say more about that?

Craig Matheus:

Well, the whole plague issue seems to be like… Well, reminds me of the black death and stories about that.

Tony Larsen:

Right, right.

Craig Matheus:

That it just adds up. I don’t want to say mystery, but it adds up, takes it out for more than just an illness or a disease. And I know it is more than just an illness or a disease, it killed hundreds of thousands of people. But that adds to someone who has it being very uncomfortable naming it that to come out and say, “Oh, by the way, I’m HIV positive too.”

Tony Larsen:

“I have the plague.”

Craig Matheus:

Oh, you’re a plague victim, that kind of… So that. And when I first found out, that’s how I looked at it. I mean, I thought this was it. We’re done.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, a death sentence.

Craig Matheus:

I thought, well, I’ve got a couple of months maybe and I’m going to be dead.

Tony Larsen:

And I didn’t know this, but he was looking at the garden that he’d put in and thought, “This is the last garden. I’ll never see a garden again, my garden.”

Craig Matheus:

This in interesting, I have not balanced my checkbook. I used to sit down and get my monthly statement and balance my checkbook. I thought, well forget this and I really haven’t. So in 20 some years I have not balanced my checkbook. I don’t know why in my mind, that’s what I thought. But I also remember we went and saw whatever episode of Star Wars and it started, music is starting. I’m sitting there crying and I thought, “What is this about? It’s Star Wars.” And then in my head I remember thinking why I never thought I would see this next episode because that was filmed years in advance. So I thought, well so and I guess that’s kind of the opposite of the plague. I mean I had to continue to think that I could make it and I could live through this. And I still, this is really the first time I have sat down and told-

Tony Larsen:

This public-

Craig Matheus:

This public that I have this illness. I had to consciously make an effort to think, “Am I going to tell this story or I’m going to emphasize gay marriage or something like that?” Which is equally important. But so-

Tony Larsen:

Yeah, but it’s another story.

Speaker 4:

Well, you’re in a unique position to tell this particular story.

Craig Matheus:

Yes, yes. This is interesting, I’m assuming there are a lot of surviving people, but to be real honest, I don’t have relationships with people that are surviving because of… I mean, I don’t belong to an organization of people with HIV, who are HIV positive or anything like that.

Tony Larsen:

Yeah, we just know a few people -e-

Craig Matheus:

We know.

Tony Larsen:

…who we happen to know because they’ve mentioned it. But we’re not actually related in other ways.

Craig Matheus:

Yeah. So think it’s important too that out of all of this incredible sadness, that there are, I was lucky enough I made it through and I think that’s just when I got diagnosed. And also I think the type of virus that I have and how it affected my body. Because the doctor did figure that by the… When I was diagnosed that I had had it a long time and it just was incubating inside of me and didn’t surface, so. And that’s been more than 20 years that I was diagnosed.

And the other interesting thing is I would say your experience with the nurse, I mentioned this before, when I had the x-ray and the day of that, I had the X-ray and the nurse took it and she called the house later on and she said, “I’m not supposed to do this. And I said, “I never have talked to a nurse after an x-ray. And she said, “I think,” she said, “You have pneumocystic fibrosis.” And that, and this is another that, I knew what that was. I knew what that was immediately. And I thought, “Oh well good. Thank you.” I just, you just pushed that all out.

Tony Larsen:

She was giving you a hint.

Craig Matheus:

She was giving me a hint like —

Tony Larsen:

And we didn’t know.

Craig Matheus:

… and she said, “If you’re not, you need to see the doctor really quickly.” I said, “Well, thank you. I’ve seen the doctor.” I had the test because I saw the doctor. But even then I was… When the doctor called later on the next day or something and said that I was positive, it was a shock to me even though obviously what she had said was you probably have it. It was just kind of put that out of your…

Tony Larsen:

Well, the doctor said you were like 97% positive. And I said, “Well, we must be part of the 3% because there’s no way-”

Craig Matheus:

You don’t have it.

Tony Larsen:

… no way you could have it.” And I didn’t. That’s what I thought.

Craig Matheus:

Because we were together quite a long time and I think I just lucked out that my viral load was consistently zero until I had a big flare-up.

Speaker 4:

Thank you.

Craig Matheus:

You’re welcome.

Speaker 4:

Doddie, what would you like to tell us?

Doddie Stone:

Well, my experiences with AIDS go back to the ’80s and San Francisco because I was part of the gay scene in San Francisco. And most frequently was in men’s bars because at that time my husband was gay and he’s since passed on, but not from AIDS. But at that time little by little people were disappearing that were familiar faces in the bar. And I was going to John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California working on a master’s degree. And as part of that degree you got involved in projects. And so Shanti was just forming in the Bay rea at that time as a service agency. And I went to what was considered to be the first AIDS training at that point when Shanti was moving from being in grief counseling into specifically being grief counseling around AIDS. So in that time that followed, there were a lot of Memorial Services and we always sang Amazing Grace. And I still think of those days at the times that I hear that song.

Fast forward and at the time I hit the Shanti project, I was a teacher. That was before my minister days and fast forward into the ’90s and I’m now at Starr King and I’ve reached the point where I have to choose what I’m going to do for a chaplaincy. So I went to San Francisco General Hospital and worked on the AIDS ward and there, things had changed a little bit. That was the ’90s by then and people were touching people and although a lot of the patients that we saw had family members that didn’t want to see them, they were still comfortable with us being there. And so that was the big thing that I was doing at that time around AIDS and Shanti, of course continued and still is, it’s doing work in the Bay area, although I’m a long from there.

I think in answer to the question about what to remember is that it’s not over yet. And in Terre Haute, Indiana, where I now live, there’s not too much attention paid to AIDS, although there’s a small group there. But it used to be that you had AIDS Remembrance Day on I believe was December 1st. And now it just kind of goes by and groups don’t gather and candles aren’t lit and it’s just kind of been pushed down under the carpet. And I think that we need to be aware that people-

Craig Matheus:

Well, I want to say thank you for doing what you did at the time. I can only imagine how that would have been thought of and appreciated. And so thank you. And I remember years ago before I had it too, I had visiting friends at San Francisco. I had a good friend and we were at a dinner party. And there were people in the health profession there and we were talking about AIDS and they were leaving the area. And I never, because it was just so difficult. Everyone they touched, all the patients were dying.

And I do remember that and thinking how terrible that is. And with the doctor that I have even in Wisconsin, we haven’t talked a lot about his experience, but that was his primary job, [inaudible 00:17:48] at the hospital I went to. And he did say last couple times I was in there visiting him. How difficult it was losing patients. That everyone would come and then within the year or so they would be gone. And how hard that was for the medical profession even after they realized you could touch and it was okay, right? It was just a really hard time.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. So that leads into my next question for you, Doddie, which is what motivated you to choose San Francisco General and specifically the AIDS ward for your CPE chaplaincy?

Doddie Stone:

Because I had earlier done the work with the Shanti Project, I just felt that was where I wanted to be.

Speaker 4:

And you had something to bring to it too, it sounds like. You knew something that maybe other people didn’t know.

Doddie Stone:

Right. And somewhere along the line. And one of my experiences with a Memorial Service for AIDS, one of the partners of the person who passed, handed me a little tiny box and in it were just a couple little personal objects, a rock and a couple of other things. And I’ve always kept that little box to remember there was a person there once, not just a box.

Craig Matheus:

Another thing that I think that emphasizes is the current need for some sort of universal health care. I mean I was lucky enough that I had a really good job and I had good insurance and my job was understanding, not so much understanding of AIDS, but that I was sick and they let me get time off. Without that insurance, it would have been impossible. I don’t know what I would’ve done. Because even now, when I went through… When I retired and I was checking through Medicare and I needed a supplemental plan and a drug plan, it’s expensive. When I started, I think, when I started, one of my pills was like $800 a month and I take two AIDS-related pills and the other was cheaper but not much, a little bit. And when I retired I thought, how are we going to afford my $1,200 a month on medication? That’s outrageous. And so the whole look for the future is insurance is really, really important and medical care and who’s going to pay for it is really important.

Doddie Stone:

I don’t know if there’s any custom now like there was then of making quilts. But the AIDS quilts carried quite a message. To see them spread out over all areas, they were in Washington, D.C. They were in San Francisco. They traveled many places.

Craig Matheus:

They went to the Parkside, which is a University of Wisconsin at Parkside and they all, they had several of the quilts displayed and it’s just-

Tony Larsen:

It was very moving.

Craig Matheus:

… really moving and really touching and just —

Elizabeth S.:

Yeah. I remember as a colleague when Mark DeWolf announced at our ministers meeting that he was HIV positive and that was probably late ’85. And then following that and then Charles Slab, who was the minister in Schenectady, I was serving churches in the St. Lawrence district and that the congregations made a quilt piece for it. And when it came to Syracuse, I volunteered to be a guide around the quilt. You dressed in white and took your shoes off to wear socks. And one of the first things I did was go to find Mark’s quilt and Charles’ quilt. And that was one of the very first experiences that we ministers had of losing one of our own. And it hit us all very hard. And of course, Mark was very young, which was another piece of it that he was so young. And Charles, I had not known how his family and how members of the congregation surrounded him at the end.

And I kept thinking that I was very pleased and thankful for the Unitarian Universalist community. And the ministers who gathered around and affirmed those of us who just went to the hospitals, conducted the Memorial Services and tried to help people understand that they were dying and they needed love. They needed care and that you could touch and that they needed-

Craig Matheus:

And walk in the same room.

Elizabeth S.:

… Yeah, be in the same room and touch them. And we did. I think we did that well as colleagues. And then we needed to comfort each other. We had just lost very dear colleagues. And so the next year after Mark had died when the ministers gathering, we had a Memorial Service, we had small group. I mean, we realized that we needed to comfort one another for our loss, for both of those ministers. And we did, we did. And that tested the inherent dignity and worth of every person belief as Universalists and Unitarians, Universalists that we lived it. We really did live it. And we did honor the integrity, the worth, the dignity of those who were dying of AIDS.

Speaker 4:

It’s different too when it’s close to home, like your colleague, in your professional role, you do Memorial Services for people in your congregation or people in the community who die. But when it’s a colleague, it somehow puts a different slant on it.

Elizabeth S.:

It does. Or a member of your congregation.

Craig Matheus:

Well, I remember when I was teaching, I would, every once in a while during family life we had a good AIDS unit and every once in a while some child would say, “Oh yeah, that’s what my uncle died of or that’s what so and so died of.” And so that would come up that way with the children. Then I would turn to the blackboard, take a deep breath and turn back. We’d have a little discussion. I also remember being really, really pissed off. I was really mad. Do you remember that? I was, I mean, really sad, but I was mad.

Speaker 4:

That you had AIDS?

Craig Matheus:

Yeah, that I, what is this? Why did I get this? Just that whole really mad.

Tony Larsen:

Well, to be honest, I felt guilty because I thought of the two of us, I was the one who should’ve gotten it. That’s what I felt.

Craig Matheus:

I mean, he lived in San Francisco area.

Tony Larsen:

So yeah, I’d grown up there, but also I certainly —

Craig Matheus:

Go back home.

Tony Larsen:

Yeah. When I’d go back for visits and things. So, yeah.

Doddie Stone:

And one of the things that was hard in burying folks was that when I was doing my internship in Louisville, Kentucky and one of the men died, the parents didn’t want it mentioned that he was gay, much less that he had died of AIDS. And so for the partner, this was a very incomplete service, except for those who immediately knew that were around. But they did not want it mentioned either that he was gay or that he had AIDS.

Tony Larsen:

Speaking —

Speaker 4:

I wonder, go ahead.

Tony Larsen:

Well, speaking of which, there was one couple that I met and one of them was dying of AIDS. And when he did die, his partner of course wanted to have a service and we were going to plan it. The person who died, his mother had disowned him and hadn’t spoken to him for probably a dozen years. And, but she came back in and said she would be in charge of the service and because marriage wasn’t… There was no gay marriage then he, there was nothing he could do. He was allowed to go to the service. But she had a minister that she liked do the service.

So we had a separate thing at his home and we memorialized his partner, but it was very clear to me then, and this is where it talk about intersectionality, where different issues cut across. Gay marriage and AIDS are two different things. But in this particular case, it would have made a difference if he could have been legally married, that he would’ve had the right to do. And he should’ve had the right. That was just wrong that that could be done. Especially given that the mother had disowned him for being gay. So how does she come in and get to be in charge? I still, I think that’s different-

Craig Matheus:

Well, I never told my parents. My mother died a while ago, but my dad came and lived with us and then we moved him from Milwaukee to Racine, he came to live with us. So we never had, I never told him. He knew I was gay and he was at our wedding, but he was also 96 when he died so he was in his late 90s and I thought, well I-

Tony Larsen:

And I also thought it —

Craig Matheus:

I’m just not going to do it.

Tony Larsen:

… Wouldn’t do him any good.

Craig Matheus:

It wouldn’t do me any good. It would just make him —

Tony Larsen:

It would just make him —

Craig Matheus:

He would’ve worried,

Tony Larsen:

He would have just worried.

Craig Matheus:

His last years would have been worried about me. But on the other hand, there’s, this is maybe part of why I think why did I get so pissed off. My mother died of cancer. We talked about that all the time, “Oh, mother, how’s mom doing or whatever?” And that was totally acceptable. And here, I have a major illness too. And it’s just sort of like just be quiet, don’t say anything about this. So that whole societal about being quiet. And on the other hand that I played into it, it’s not like when I was diagnosed, I didn’t start a group on my own.

Speaker 4:

And there was a time when people didn’t talk about cancer, either. It was very hush, hush. And now we’re talking about AIDS in a different way than we did 20 or 30 years ago.

Craig Matheus:

Maybe that’s something to —

Speaker 4:

So there’s some progress,

Craig Matheus:

A future thing you’re saying for what to know for the future. It’s a disease, it’s an illness. Talk about it. It’s not, you do feel like it’s your fault. I figured, “Oh, did I go home with someone who was a real trashy or?” And you start to like, “Whose fault is this?” Well, you got a disease, you were sick.

Speaker 4:

Thinking about Liz’s aunt, And how she contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion and was still shunned.

Elizabeth S.:

Yes. And what we learned almost 20 years later, her children never told the rest of us. They suffered that all by themselves until it was my other aunt who died, then they told us that Aunt Edith had died of AIDS. And we just cried because we would have been there for her and for all of our cousins and it still hurts. It still hurts. But again, they were not screening blood. Do you know the movie, And the Band Played On? That was the reality that if you got AIDS, you had done something wrong, something bad and you deserved it. Or I mean the theology in the Baptist church was just hurtful, painful, mean on. And for me who firmly believes in a transformative power of love, that’s God. What kind of God would they think would do that? You know? And so my Universalism got really tested during that whole time. Really challenged because if you do believe in the inherent dignity and worth of every person, you can’t behave that way. You can’t hurt people that way. You just can’t.

Craig Matheus:

And the other thing, it’s interesting how it all plays together. Marriage equality and people getting married now and acceptance of the relationship. It’s all together to me because that… You are having a partner was incredible, was wonderful, he could take care of me when I got sick. You weren’t by yourself because you felt like you were kind of by yourself anyways and I couldn’t help it. It just felt like kind of unclean or I did something wrong. You know, this is like, Oh but there’s someone else going, “No, no, no that’s okay.” And that’s there because people can now get married and support each other. It just seems to be, it’s all the connectedness of everything. It’s incredible.

Elizabeth S.:

I kept thinking, you got to get a HIPAA. You got to let the doctors know who they can talk to because they won’t talk to anybody that’s not on that HIPAA form.

Craig Matheus:

Well that was my experience at the pharmacy the first time I went to fill my prescription for AZT, which did not work. I was sitting at the pharmacy and I, in my head, it still is like the pharmacy had 150 people in it and I’m sure there were like six of us. And the pharmacy worker came to the counter, “Who’s here for the AZT?” I thought everyone in the world was looking at me going… And we both looked at each other and went, “Oh my God.” You didn’t want to get up and get your pills. And so that was pretty bad.

Elizabeth S.:

And that was part of the advice you needed to give when you did services of Holy Union. Because again, they had no legal standing when something like this happened. And so that, but the durable power of attorney, there are things but yes, that’s one of the things I’m glad it’s changing. And with legal marriage, a lot of that is not, you still need the HIPAA even though you’re married. I mean my children, I have to list who a doctor could talk to if I go end over teakettle down the stairs. They won’t call unless the name is on that list.

Speaker 4:

Right, so we need to wrap this up, but I’m wondering before we end, if any of you has any sort of final thing that you’d like to say to the people who are going to be watching this video?

Doddie Stone:

There’s a lot of work still to be done, not only in this country but in other countries, particularly, I’m thinking of Africa now. Where we still don’t have all the answers or we still have a lot of work to do on attitude change. The stories of your aunts, just to remember that AIDS has nothing to do with who you are, AIDS is a disease.

Elizabeth S.:

And I would say keep yourself very grounded in Unitarian Universalism because our theology and our practices will help you considerably as a minister, as a patient, as a partner, in any of it.

Craig Matheus:

And I think education is really important. I fear when I see current political things where people that I look at who are educated or scientists or doctors who studied something, are then looked suspect just because they’re finding out information that maybe everyone doesn’t want to hear or whatever. It’s really important to, I mean, I think of Africa, the Ebola stuff where there’s all these misconceptions and fantasies about an illness. And just the education’s really, really, important and to believe those that are educated or that have done their research.

Tony Larsen:

Right. Right.

Interview with Jane Dwinell and Brendan Hadash

TRANSCRIPT:

Jane:

Brendan and I are here to tell the story of the Unitarian Universalist involvement in the passage of the Vermont Civil Union Law in 2000. What I remember, where it began for me, and I think you had a lot to do with this, was the first ministers’ retreat that I attended at Rock Point. You had Beth Robinson come and speak to us. That was either in ’96 or ’97, and Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force had already started. Yes? At that point?

Brendan:

Yes, ’95.

Jane:

In ’95, so maybe that was ’96 when she came to speak to the ministers.

Brendan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jane:

Beth Robinson was an attorney who was the person who got the three couples to sue for the right to marry. She was a graduate of Dartmouth, lived in Vermont. After Hawaii, the national people turned to Vermont because we didn’t have a state referendum way to make laws like many states do, in California for example. It was only the legislature who made laws, so they thought there was a chance in Vermont to be able to pass marriage equality. Beth came to the ministers’ retreat to get the ministers behind that. Is that when you started VOWS?

Brendan:

Yeah, probably.  That’s when I first reached out to the UU ministers. That would be when it started. VOWS stood for Vermont Organization for Weddings of the Same gender. We stayed away from the word “sex” because we were going to be dealing with clergy from many different denominations even though that was not really precisely the proper phrasiology.

Jane:

Yeah. And you wrote a document, who wrote the document that like we all signed on to?

Brendan:

Beth wrote that.

Jane:

Beth Robinson wrote that. Yeah.

Brendan:

Okay. I’ll tell a little bit what happened before.

Jane:

Yes.

Brendan:

Okay. Now, there’s a book where they interviewed all the key people, or many of the key people in the civil union movement in Vermont. And I just reread parts of that book and I was surprised how important Unitarian Universalism was.

Jane:

You bet.

Brendan:

Yeah, we were. When I overlook the role, I was kind of like the shot heard round the world that started things off. And you were kind of the fireworks at the end, having the first wedding in a church. I mean the first civil union in a church.

Jane:

Right.

Brendan:

My memory is Beth Robinson, the lawyer who kind of got this all kind of launched, contacted me in 1995 and said, “Well we want to try and get gay marriage in Vermont.” She had found a couple willing to have a Holy Union because she knew that Unitarian Universalists did Holy Unions.

Brendan:

She found a couple willing to have a Holy Union at Gay Pride in 1995, and so that was going to be the launch of the whole, you know, movement toward gay marriage because we said we have to get the gays online first because it was controversial even among the gays in those days. She said, “So the first thing I want to do is at Gay Pride”. So, it was announced that I was going to be doing this wedding and I also said that it would be a public wedding if anyone wanted to be married in the audience, they could take their vows at that time also. And that was advertised. And as I mentioned in another video that the local very conservative newspaper heard about this and wrote a full page article about me and it was a little scary, you know, what will this very conservative area – how will they respond to an openly gay minister?

Brendan:

I didn’t have any problems, but another member of my congregation also came out into a full page spread in this newspaper. He had his… He had like epitaphs or epithets or whatever written on his place of work. And you know that names, I won’t say. So it’s, it’s kind of a dangerous area. And I noticed that Mark and Hal had death threats from your congregation.

Jane:

Oh many people in my congregation had death threats. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, Brendan.

Brendan:

We’re getting ahead of ourself. So let me focus on 1995. So in 1995 what happened was because of the threats and things like that, the couple that were going to get married backed out, they were too scared. And so I was already scheduled at Gay Pride in ’95 to do this wedding. I said, I’m going ahead. And in 1993 there was a gay march on Washington and at Supreme Court, I believe they had, you know, ministers and rabbis and whatever stand up and do a wedding for anyone who wanted to in the audience.

Brendan:

So I said, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll just say the words and if people, anyone wants to say the vows out in the out in the audience, they can say them, and that’s between the couples themselves. And so I was scared. Is it going to be a right wing demonstration against this? I was worried. But from my perspective luckily it started pouring rain. And so the crowd dispersed, there was hardly anyone there. But I said, I’m going ahead with this. So I went ahead and I could see one poor lesbian couple who in these beautiful frilly wedding gowns drenched just dripping. And they were saying the vows to one another and I saw another gay male couple over in this corner saying the vows to one another. Getting choked up.

Jane:

Yeah! No, that’s so exciting.

Brendan:

And I heard later there was another family that had kids that were saying vows to one another. So at least three couples took vows that day. And then Beth, the lawyer, that’s when she organized for Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force really to get going, which was the organization working toward gay marriage and eventually civil unions working for gay marriage. So she started that in the fall after. The fall of ’95 is when she really started that.  The role I was tasked with, as one of the core members of the Task Force early on, was I was charged to get together the names of clergy, religious leaders, religious organizations who would support same sex marriage, and were willing to have their names put on an amicus brief to go before the legislature.

Jane:

Before the Supreme Court.

Brendan:

Supreme Court, I’m sorry, yes.

Jane:

We weren’t at the legislature yet. We were still at the Supreme Court.

Brendan:

We were still at the Supreme Court, that’s right. Keep me on track here.

Jane:

I will.

Brendan:

Probably the first thing I did is, I probably brought Beth to the minister’s meeting and said, hey, easy pickings, go for those first.

Jane:

That’s right.

Brendan:

So let me go for the UU ministers. And all the UU ministers of Vermont signed on right away.

Jane:

Yeah.

Brendan:

We eventually got… And then I kind of cast a big net of people who had any relationship to Vermont. So we ended up with 25, even though there weren’t 25 churches in Vermont, ended up with around 25 UU ministers sign this amicus brief right off the bat. Then I went on to other denominations. I ended up with approximately 200 clergy, religious leaders. Several congregations took votes, like the UU churches in Rutland and Burlington. The district, you know, New Hampshire, Vermont district took a vote.

Brendan:

So there are several organizations also, and versus like, like the Quakers who don’t have ministers, they had to go to their whole meeting. But like I believe there’s a Putney meeting and I think there was maybe another Quaker group that they had the whole congregation vote.

Brendan:

So, and then the ministers there were, you know, we had all the UU Ministers.

Jane:

Yeah, that was easy.

Brendan:

The UCC Ministers, they ended up with all around 75 ministers. We had 25. They had 75 just cause there’s so many of them. We got totally outnumbered by them. There were about 25 Episcopals, and then you know others. There were some Methodists, there’s some Presbyterian, several rabbis on this amicus brief. And the other thing that we used the names for is we put them all on a poster and we put these posters up at county fairs. Here are all the clergy in Vermont that support same sex marriage. And you must’ve staffed some of these booths.

Jane:

The beauty of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, the way they chose to talk to the public, was to go to all the County fairs in Vermont and have a booth where people like Brendan and I would sit there and talk to people as they came by, which in different parts of Vermont was a different kind of activity. The part of Vermont that Brendan and I lived with was very conservative and it was, you know, it was challenging, but there was this whole grassroots… The three couples who were part of the lawsuit went in church basements and town halls anywhere anybody would have them to talk about it. And one of the couples was elderly, these two women who were dairy farmers and never had come out to anybody, but they had been together their whole lives, had a small herd of cows and talked with a Vermont accent. And that kind of personal story really moved people’s hearts and minds in Vermont. And then when we get to the next part, that’s what moved the legislature.

Jane:

So we spent two years doing the town hall and the county fair thing, and at the same time the legal cases were moving through the system. And the day where the oral arguments were before the Vermont Supreme Court, myself and another UU minister, Carol Karlson, organized an interfaith worship service at the UU church in Montpelier that we held like as a vigil while the case was being argued before the Supreme Court, because we all couldn’t go, you know, only so many people could go. And then the attorneys came over to the church afterwards so we could all like cheer and whatever. And so then it was in the hands of the Supreme Court and that was November of 1998, and we waited and waited and Beth Robinson had a joke where she had, she had her fancy suit hanging on the back of her office door ready for when the announcement was going to come. The announcement came from the Supreme court in December of 1999, right before Christmas, and they said people should have the right to marry, but we’re going to leave this up to the legislature to decide, you know, this is by the people and for the people so it’s up to the legislature. Legislature session in Vermont starts the beginning of January. So there was a hop to like, oh my God, we had to like get organized fast to get it in the legislative session, yes?

Brendan:

Yeah, the Supreme Court, we were, we were kind of annoyed at their ruling because what they said is, well, gays and lesbians have to have the same rights as any other married couple, period. But how the legislatures decide to do this, whether as marriage or registered partnerships was the phrase they used or some other vehicle. It’s all up to the legislature. We said, that’s not… That’s separate but equal. That’s not equal.

Brendan:

But anyway, that was another decision.

Jane:

Yeah. And so it was this fast thing and the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force was run by Dorothy Mammen, who was a UU lay person from the Middlebury, Vermont congregation. She ran it out of her living room, this woman, she was straight and she was tireless, tireless, tireless, making phone calls, talking to people because all of a sudden we had to start lobbying our legislators about this. And there were public hearings where the State House was jammed, you know, and in Vermont, still to this day, anybody can walk into the State House. There are no metal detectors, there’s no security guards. You can just go in and participate.

Jane:

And both Brendan and I were at the public hearing, but neither of us got our names picked. And so what I did, and actually a whole bunch of people from my congregation, We were both serving small congregations and my congregation at that point was maybe 30 members, I want to say maybe 35. There were six or seven of us who came from the congregation to testify and none of us got chosen. So the Sunday after that I scrapped whatever worship service I was doing and I had everybody stand up and give the testimony that they were going to give at the State House as the worship service. It was very powerful because it was everybody from gay people to straight people in the congregation who were willing to speak up for that. But the real critical thing that happened was so many gay and lesbian people in Vermont had to come out.

Jane:

You know, they were like, this is our chance. If something’s going to happen, we have to come out, and Hal and Mark who were in my congregation. Mark was a fourth grade teacher in this very conservative area and he came out, the big splash article on the front page of the very conservative local newspaper and he didn’t lose his job. The people were very supportive of him, his principal, and the parents, amazingly enough. Though, they did get hate mail. The church got hate mail. It really, it escalated as the legislature got closer to crafting a bill. They were crafting it as, as a civil union instead of marriage. They felt that had a greater chance of passing and that it was a first step.

Brendan:

I kind of wonder if possibly the UUs even influenced the name because we had “Holy” Unions, and I  actually mentioned in a meeting – well how about “civil” unions.

Jane:

Yeah.

Brendan:

So UUs could’ve actually been responsible for the name.

Jane:

Yeah. We had a UU lobby day where we had a press conference and had UUs come from all over the state to lobby their legislators, and several legislators came to the press conference and they said that how important this was to them, that people were speaking to them individually and they, and they held up their hate mail. They said, we are getting hate mail from people all over the country and I forget, who was that bad guy that came and said-

Brendan:

Phelps?

Jane:

Yeah, set up an office. Anyway, they were like, now we understand what it’s like for gay and lesbian people because we’re getting hate mail and we haven’t done anything. Then in March I get a phone call from Beth Robinson and she says, would you like to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in two days? I’m like, oh sure, Beth, I would love to. Oh my God. So I wrote this. This is my testimony:

Thank you for inviting me to speak before you today. I’m the Reverend Jane Dwinell, and I serve the first Universalist parish, a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Derby line, Vermont. My congregation serves Unitarian Universalists from all over Orleans County as well as part of the Eastern townships of Quebec. I’m also a member of the board of trustees of the New Hampshire, Vermont district of Unitarian Universalist societies as well as president of my districts chapter of the Unitarian Universalists Ministers Association. I also serve as a chaplain for the Orleans and Northern Essex County Visiting Nurses and Hospice and North Country Hospital in Newport. I live in Irasburg. I’m also a seventh generation Vermonter.

Jane:

I’m going to, jeez, I didn’t get emotional with them. On both sides of the family my ancestors having settled the towns of Braintree and Calais. I grew up here in Montpelier and learned about the civil rights and importance of speaking up for the oppressed in church. As a Unitarian Universalist I’m called to speak out against injustice and for civil rights. Thus, I’m here today to let you know there are people of faith who are in favor of same-gender marriage and civil unions. Our denomination has a long history of faith-based action in the civil rights arena from the people who work to end slavery in the early to mid 1800s, to women like Susan B. Anthony, who fought tirelessly for women’s rights, to social workers who spoke up for the rights of the mentally ill in the early 1900s, to the clergy and lay people who went south in the 1960s to march for the civil rights of Americans with black skin.

Jane:

My colleague, the Reverend James Reeb, was murdered in Selma, Alabama when he went to march with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King in 1965. It’s no different for us in the area of rights for gay and lesbian persons. For the past 30 years, our clergy have been performing services of Holy Union between members of the same gender. These union ceremonies carry the same weight as marriage within our denomination and are celebrated in the same fashion as weddings of opposite gender couples. In fact, in 1996 our general assembly passed a resolution in support of the right to marry for same sex couples. Right after the passage of this resolution, Unitarian Universalist Association president, the Reverend John Buehrens, asked all same gender couples present to come forward. Several hundred people gathered on the stage to a standing ovation by the delegates at the assembly. It was a powerful and moving moment. Since the 1996 general assembly, a similar resolution has been passed at the New Hampshire Vermont District Annual Meeting by our district ministers association and at several Unitarian Universalist churches in Vermont.

Jane:

We as a denomination understand that the right to have longterm, committed, heterosexual or homosexual relationships supported and acknowledged by the government is a civil right. Homosexuals are born, not made. One’s sexual orientation is as much of a birthright as one’s race. Why would it be any other way? Just as people once thought that the Earth was flat and that our planet was the center of the universe and had to change their viewpoint once the scientific evidence was in, scientists and psychologists now agree that one is born with one’s sexual orientation. Why would anyone choose to be homosexual? In the words of one of am I gay parishioners, why would anyone choose to be called an abomination or beaten and tied to a fence to die? Why would anyone want to live their life in fear and secrecy, unable to tell even their closest friends, coworkers and relatives that they have fallen in love and formed a family?

Jane:

When a couple comes to me wishing to be married, consenting adults who have fallen in love and want to make a public statement of their commitment and have it blessed, we sit down together and talk. We talk about what the couple is looking for in a ceremony, how they wish to honor their relationship before friends and family and their faith community. But mostly we talk about the quality of their relationship, their struggles and their joys, what they love most about each other. What bugs them most about each other, how they handled conflict and money and decision making in general. Whether or not they want children and when and what kind of relationship they have with each other’s family of origin. We discuss how a trusting, loving, and caring sexual relationship can deepen their level of intimacy, but as anyone in this room who is in or has been in a longterm committed relationship, knows sharing sexual pleasure is the least of it.

Jane:

Couples spend more time worrying about the mortgage and the bills, how to balance work and family. How to raise the kids in a responsible manner, how to find time to contribute to society and find meaning in life. How to decide who cooks and who cleans, who goes grocery shopping and who takes out the trash. I provide the same pre ceremony counseling for same gender or opposite gender couples. Their concerns are the same. Their joys are the same. Their lives are the same except for one point. Society does not recognize the same-gender couples relationship. When I work with dying people and their families, I meet people where they are without judgment. They want to explore the meaning of their lives and make plans for the care of their property and their body after death. These are deep conversations and people have deep concerns. Caring for a dying loved one is one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another.

Jane:

Disposing of our loved one’s body after death and planning a memorial service or some of the most intimate things we can do for one another. How can we as a society deny these rights to anyone. Emotional again. And I guess I was too nervous. And especially to someone who has tended their partner’s body and spirit at home through the final days and weeks of a terminal illness. Marriage as an institution has changed over the years. Once upon a time, it was only for the wealthy as a way to cement bonds of property and inheritance. Once upon a time, people of different religions, different races and different social classes were not allowed to marry. Marriage has changed with the times granting the right of civil union to same-gender couples, which is in no way marriage as it is not portable from state-to-state and does not bestow upon them any of the federal rights associated with marriage, would in no way degrade marriage as an institution, it would only enhance it.

Jane:

Gay men and lesbians are in my congregation. They are my friends and family. They are my neighbors. I have gained nothing but strength for my own marriage from them. I see close at hand what they go through to create a home in society that is against them. I see them raise wonderful children, work hard in their communities, and participate fully in the life of their house of worship. A loving and benevolent divine essence walks with us. We are called to be whole people, to look inside ourselves and be true to who we are. We all struggle with this from time to time, but gay men and lesbians struggle more. They do not want to think they are deviants in society. They do not want to listen to hate-filled language spoken by people who do not understand what it is like to be a gay man or lesbian in our world.

Jane:

Homosexuals, like heterosexuals, just want to be left alone, to love their mate, to raise their children, to care for their home, to contribute to society, and to find a faith community that will nurture their deepest longings. Our society has struggled and continues to struggle with many so-called moral issues, slavery, desegregation, interracial marriage, child labor, the death penalty, abortion rights, the rights of the disabled, and now gay and lesbian rights. Faith communities also struggle with these issues, but we religious leaders expect our governmental leaders to seek equitable and just solutions to these issues, not based solely on a particular faith point of view. In Orleans County alone, there are practicing Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, as well as people of various native and Earth Centered Traditions. The history of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state runs deep in Vermont.

Jane:

Because we know that Americans and Vermonters are not of one faith, we ask you, our elected officials to look deep into your hearts and do what is just and fair. There are times when it is necessary for you to look beyond the popular vote because other legislators before you had the courage to do that. We no longer have segregation separating the races and women have the right to vote and be independent citizens apart from their husbands or fathers. All couples have the right to their commitment have their commitment honored and respected by society. The Civil Union Bill takes the first step toward full equality. I ask you to do all you can to ensure the rights of same gender couples to have the full benefits, protections, and responsibilities that heterosexual married couples enjoy.

Jane:

And then it passed!

Brendan:

Yeah!

Jane:

It passed in April of 2000. It passed and the governor signed it into law.

Brendan:

The next day.

Jane:

I happened to be in New York City at the time with my, then 10-year-old son, and we were walking in Times Square and it came on the banner in Times Square and we’re jumping up and down and screaming. People thought we were weird. But it was New York City, like whatever.

Jane:

And then the exciting part was doing ceremonies. Oh my goodness. I… We had the… I officiated at the first ceremony done in a UU church. The law went into effect July 1st of 2000 and the ceremony was on July 2nd of Hal and Mark. Hal was the church organist. And they had met already, anyway. And they had a daughter. Kappes was I think 11 at the time. The church held maybe 125 people. There were 150 in at this ceremony and worldwide media in the balcony that had come as from as far as Japan, that was all lined up in the balcony. It’s a poor, little church. And it was amazing and wonderful, and that summer I did 25 ceremonies. How many did you do Brendan?

Brendan:

Oh, around 200. I actually advertised in gay magazines, like the Advocate. I actually had put up a website then, and because at that point Vermont was the only place in the world where you could, where a gay and lesbian couples could go to have a legal recognition of their relationship.

Jane:

Yeah.

Brendan:

Unless you already lived in that country. So I had people coming from Mexico, from Australia.

Jane:

People from all over the country.

Brendan:

It was from all over the country. I’ll never forget the first one. I’m going to cry again, by the way.

Jane:

It was hard for me, you know, because when I had done weddings before, I had never done the, “By the power vested in me, by the state of Vermont…” And now you never said that like, well who would say that? But I said that! It was like so exciting! By the power invested in me, by the state of Vermont. I know, you know.

Brendan:

My very first civil union was two elderly men and I think they were in their sixties, well their sixties or seventies. They’d been together for around 40 years I believe. They came up from Massachusetts and they said no one’s going to ever know about this. We’re in the closet back home. But we just, they said their vows, they said they just loved each other so much.

Jane:

Yeah. Yeah. One of the most fun ones I did were two couples, that gay male couple and a lesbian couple from the UU church in Canton, New York. And they came over with their ministers and they had already had a Holy Union ceremonies. And so it was just us. And they stood up for each other as you know, witnesses. And they did the same ceremony again with their ministers Wade and Anne, and, and I just did the pronouncement. I just did that. But it was really, it was really fun. And, and that, that gay male couple was, they, they were in their seventies I think they’d been together a long time. So it was, it was a heady time. It was an exciting time.

Jane:

And it was really those personal stories that affected the legislators to be able to move forward with this. And, and I was so honored by the bravery of my congregants who were not out, who came out and knew they had to and that that was going to change things. And it did, I mean, because of the run of civil unions, there was then legal precedent to move forward with marriage in Massachusetts. And then it snowballed. And then there it is. Anything else you want to say Brendan?

Brendan:

I mean the fact that Alan and I, well my husband, Alan, and I had our, our Holy Union way back and the way back in ’85. We’ve been together 36 years now. You know, I was the first minister of any denomination to have their relationship recognized by a state in the country. Yeah. So that, that was a special, big week. But we’d already had our wedding. We had had the big wedding already. You know, it’s, it’s very strange because we ran out to our next door neighbor who was a JP and just had her do it again. Then when they legalized marriage, we had to go do it again. Now it’s that. That’s, so it’s three times we’ve been married, now it’s no more.

Jane:

That’s what I did. I told all the couples that I did the civil union for, I said, now that it’s marriage, just bring me a license. We don’t have to do anything. Yeah, no. If it wasn’t for the Unitarian Universalists in Vermont, this would not have happened.

Brendan:

The Unitarian Universalists in Vermont supported us right from the word go. Their, their foundation of the, of all the clergy support that we had, that which was essential because the right wing clergy were out there in force. And then we, when we needed it, and without that, accountants with that counterbalance is extremely important.

Jane:

And Beth Robinson is now a member of the Vermont Supreme Court, the lawyer who tried the case.

Speaker 3:

Okay.

Brendan:

Okay.

Interview with Darrick Jackson, Susan Veronica Rak, and Carlton E Smith

TRANSCRIPT:

Susan Veronica:

Well, when I was asked to be on this panel, I wasn’t quite sure how my story applied. And then I started to talk and say, “Well, I came out late in life and it was a long journey and there were detours along the way. And by the time I got into ministry and was preparing to go into search, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. How was I to navigate these waters?” There was a lot of support along the way coming out in the congregation during my internship, while I was leading the welcoming congregation program. It was lots of support and encouragement. But in the wider Unitarian Universalist context and in the world of ministry, not much happening. (more…)

Interview 2 from the Conference in New Braunfels Texas – February 2019

TRANSCRIPT:

Speaker 1:

My question is, I want you to think back, now coming into your ministry, but even before that, when did you first realize you were straight? Which has to do with of course, how did you learn about it.

Speaker 2:

It was my best friend in high school and we went into college and we both went to the same college and we were hanging out one time and he had a hard on and he was letting me know he had a hard on and it just sort of dawned on me, I said, “Oh, boys can be attracted to one another, but I was straight and it was fine. It was very interesting to me. It was confusing to me because I hadn’t noticed it before and I still don’t know. I didn’t ask him his background, but that was it. So, it was really not until college, I guess. (more…)

Dawn Sangrey

Dawn Sangrey

TRANSCRIPT:

I’m Dawn Sangrey. I’m the Minister Emerita of the Mohegan Lake New York Congregation. When I was just beginning my ministry … I was ordained when I was 59. I came to the Metro district, which was where we lived and I told Howell Lind that I wanted a job. He arranged for me to have the only job there was, which was in Englewood, New Jersey.

The Englewood New Jersey congregation had just lost their minister in a tragic accident. She had been run over by a car on her way to a board meeting and they were in terrible circumstances. I was a brand new minister and I was in over my head. So fortunately, I had a mentor. Her name is Kay Greenleaf.

I think without Kay, I would not have survived those first years, they were so difficult for me. I was not skillful, I was earnest and well-meaning, and frankly, full of myself. So, I had a terrible time in this first placement and I struggled. Kay supported me and we used to meet once a month at a midway point between Poughkeepsie, where I lived and Bedford Hills, where she lived. Other way around. She lived in Poughkeepsie, I lived in Bedford Hills.

We would get together at this little breakfast place called Karen’s and I would pour out my heart and she would listen to me. I was getting my feet under me and getting it together and eventually decided that I would leave the congregation, because I wasn’t doing them any good and it was becoming more and more conflictual. So about that time, I also took another job.

These were halftime ministries. I took another job in Mohegan Lake, where they had been lay-led for more than 40 years and they decided that they wanted to have a minister. So, I went to Mohegan Lake to be their first minister. So this new ministry was starting up, I was extricating myself from Inglewood. Kay and I had one of our breakfast meetings and she said, “I’m going to Albany next week to lobby, I want you to come with me.” I couldn’t go, I had a board meeting or something.

So I said, “Okay, I can’t go this time, but the next time you do anything, I want to go with you.” She said, “All right.” The following week, she called me on a Thursday night and said, “I have 13 weddings to do in New Paltz on Saturday. Will you come with me?” And I said, “Yes.” That’s how I got into the weddings in New Paltz, which were a significant event for Unitarian Universalism and for lesbian gay rights and for marriage equality, and for me as a minister. All of that came together for me in New Paltz. Let me do the New Paltz background a little bit.

New Paltz is a town in the Hudson Valley in New York. It’s 90 miles from New York. It’s a university town, it’s a very liberal place and they had just elected a mayor who was 26 years old and a house painter. His name is Jason West. Jason realized that he was the mayor and that he could marry people. Some of his friends, his gay friends, wanted to get married. This is in 2004, it’s seven years before New York State legalized same sex marriage, and shortly after the San Francisco weddings, which was really where this started. So Jason said, “Fine, I’ll marry you.” Some other people signed up, and the next thing he knew, he had a whole lot of people who wanted to get married in New Paltz.

So the first weddings were in the parking lot in the town hall. After Jason did those weddings, he was arrested by the district attorney of Ulster County who said that Jason was violating the law, because the town clerk would not issue a marriage license to these people. So he was officiating for marriages without a license, which is a violation of the law. Jason said he was going to continue. Then the council, the town council said, “Well, if you continue, you’re going to lose your job.” That caused him to pause and decide that he could not go on and do anymore of these weddings.

Meanwhile, my friend Kay Greenleaf, was on the list of people to get married. Kay is a Unitarian Universalist Minister, so she called Jason and said, “Listen, I’m able to continue with these weddings, if you would like me to complete your list.” So, that was when she called me and I came up to New Paltz and met her and her partner Pat Sullivan the following weekend. Kay and I wrote the ceremony, it was a very brief ceremony of marriage. We wrote it by email, she proposed a line and I proposed a line and we put the thing together, and it was just a few lines of commitment.

Because they had had affidavits at Jason West’s weddings, they didn’t have licenses, because the town clerk wouldn’t give them a license, but they wanted to have a piece of paper to give the couples. So they had an affidavit. It laid out the circumstances of the wedding and the people who are witnesses signed and the people who officiated signed, and they were notarized. All of that was already in place, so we continued that practice. We had notarized affidavits for all of the couples that were married in New Paltz.

So Kay and I met up and one question that I remember I had was what were we going to wear? So, she was kind of informal and I wasn’t sure that I should bring my vestments, but I did bring them and it was a good thing, because she had everything on. She had on her robe and her collar and her chalice and her stole and the whole business. I thought, “Oh, good. I’ve got mine too.” So I went in the car and got all my stuff.

The weddings were held that first time at a little park, it’s kind of a pocket park. At the end of the Main Street in New Paltz, there’s a bridge that goes across the Wallkill River and this park is right there on the corner. It’s on the corner of Main Street and that bridge. They had a tent, they set up a tent. We had 13 couples and we did it … well, the first ceremony was Kay and Pat. I officiated for their wedding and that was the picture that was in the paper. Kay and Pat with their hands out in triumph and me with a big smile. Then we did 13 other couples. She did one and then I did one, and then she did one.

It was so touching. These people wanted to be married so much and they were so happy and we had all kinds of costumes and get ups. We had people in bridal dresses and we had people in veils that were rainbow colored and they had flowers. Some of them brought their children and some of them brought their moms, and it was really something. It was very moving and I was full of joy and beyond grateful that I could be involved in this wonderful act of civil disobedience, which is what it was.

So the next thing that happened was that we got arrested. The district attorney, the same guy who had arrested Jason West, came and arrested us. He sent the police to arrest us. They didn’t take us into custody, but they placed us under arrest and told us that we had broken the law and told us that we needed to report for-

Speaker 2:

Quick question.

Dawn Sangrey:

Sure.

Speaker 2:

Did they do that right there at the park or was it a day later when they came to the church? Did they just show up at the park after you’ve done all the weddings.

Dawn Sangrey:

I think it was later, because I remember it being on the porch, so it might even have been the following week. Because we didn’t stop, I should say that. By this time, some momentum was developing around this event. There was a bed and breakfast up on the hill in New Paltz and they told us we couldn’t do the weddings on town property anymore, so we moved to this private property to continue doing the weddings. In fact, the weddings went on that whole summer. The first weddings that we did were on March 6th of 2004, and the weddings continued through October of that year up at the bed and breakfast.

They were officiated by many clergy, first other Unitarian Universalist Ministers who wanted to be part of this, and then eventually colleagues from different faiths. So there was a whole procession of weddings that went on all summer. I think it was the second week when we were up on the porch of the bed breakfast that the police came and served us with our papers. “You’re hereby arrested.”

By this time, we had a lawyer. Because the first week as we were finishing up with the weddings, an attorney came up and he presented me with his card. His name is Robert Gottlieb. He said, “I’m an attorney and if you need somebody to represent you, I will represent you.” He had come from Long Island and it turns out that Bob Gottlieb usually handled rather notorious criminals of one kind or another. So he always liked to say that we were the least notorious criminals that he ever had to deal with.

He was a delight and he’s on my cell phone to this day. He was there for us in every way all the way through, and so we felt quite relaxed, because we had this representation from the beginning. So the next thing that happened with the legal case was that the district attorney, the Ulster County District Attorney called us into his office, because he wanted to talk us out of it, basically. By this time, there had been an enormous amount of publicity and Kay and I were in all the papers, we were on television, we were on Good Morning America. It was a very, very big press thing, and he clearly just wanted to back away from all of it.

So he called us into his office and we had our attorney with us, and he said, “You didn’t really mean for this to be a legal marriage, right? You were just doing a religious thing there.” We went out in the hall and talked to our lawyer and he gave us a statement to read, the essence of which was, “Indeed, we meant for this to be a legal marriage, we meant for this to be the real thing.” We were deeply committed to marriage equality and we thought everybody should have a right to get married.

So then he had to charge us, so he did charge us. There were 13 counts. Each count carried a year of prison and $100 fine or something. So, there was technically some legal risk and we were eventually tried in New Paltz in the town court and acquitted on constitutional grounds.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible 00:00:14:43].

Dawn Sangrey:

Sure.

Speaker 2:

Was it a jury trial or-

Dawn Sangrey:

No, it was a judge trial, a bench trial, yeah. I actually have the paper. I brought my files, because I wanted to share some of the stuff. One of the things that’s in here is the district attorney’s invitation, the lawyer’s memorandum and the judgment, which dismissed the complaint. All of this material’s going to end up at Harvard, at the library. But if I may read … I misspoke. We were not charged. Jason was charged with all of the weddings, we were only charged with one count. So, the most we could have gotten was a year.

The judge basically said that it was unconstitutional for us to be charged in this matter because of the 14th Amendment, equal rights.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Dawn Sangrey:

The free exercise clause of the First Amendment in article one, paragraph three of the New York State Constitution, which said, “Everybody had a right to the same rights.”

Speaker 2:

And protections.

Dawn Sangrey:

And protections. We asked for dismissal on the equal protection and due process clauses, and that’s what she said. It was very exciting, the trial was very exciting. Unitarian Universalists came to the courthouse and sang and had banners, and they were very excited about it. This new congregation that I had just started to serve was over the moon about the fact that their new minister was on the front page of the paper and making this action, and that they were visible in a way that they had never been visible before.

I think it really cemented and moved forward the relationship that I had with them. I stayed in that congregation for seven years. I had I thought was a very successful ministry there. As I said, they made me Emerita. So the outcome in terms of my ministry could not have been more positive. Because I really think that I was beginning to doubt my vocation at the point before I got involved in this. I was so discouraged and it was really just a case of an inexperienced minister in over her head.

Then I got this second chance. Then because of the second chance and the experience of doing the New Paltz weddings, I just went from there and had successful years as a minister. So it was really quite wonderful.

Speaker 2:

What a great story.

Dawn Sangrey:

It was a great story, it’s a happy story. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

They have all the supporting documentation to also be an enterprise is terrific.

Dawn Sangrey:

Yeah, we’re really glad to have it, I’m glad to have it. We had so much support. I had letters from people in Europe and letters from people that I hadn’t seen for years and letters from people I’d never heard of. It was just amazing how many people were excited about it. I’m grateful to this day that I had that experience.

Speaker 2:

What a wonderful affirmation, both of your ministry and of marriage equality generally.

Dawn Sangrey:

Absolutely, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

Terrific.

Dawn Sangrey:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Thank you for coming.

Dawn Sangrey:

You are so welcome.

 

Lucy Hitchcock

Lucy Hitchcock

TRANSCRIPT:

In 1987 I was invited by Bill Schulz to be part of a colloquium on “Is the Body the Primordial Sacrament?” And this was with Bill Hough and Roy Phillips, ministers also. My particular topic was, what are the theological grounds upon which we establish and defend the body, our physicality, as a basic value. How do we recognize the exploitation of the body? On what basis do we refute those who would say, “I don’t see anything wrong with pornography, child abuse, et cetera.” So, I chose to respond with what I call narrative theology and with a poem called Tribute, which was dedicated to Patricia Woodward who was my partner for several years. I encourage you all to listen with your bodies as we said at the time.

Tribute for Patricia Woodward

My lover’s bones lie scattered on a hillside in Mendocino County. It is a place made sacred by the pilgrimages of her friends. The sun rarely breaks through, clouds press down upon the Chaparral, caress the pounding sea. Delicate gray-green plants struggle to survive. Tiny flowers grace her grave, their colors changing with the season. Two narcissus planted at the scattering, rose the next spring but never bloomed. Only wild things can flourish in such a place. I return when I can. My home is on another coast. Alone or with a companion, I climb the long ridge from the campground. The hills roll out in unison endlessly to the ocean. I come here to remember eternity, that death is as natural as the curve of ocean against land and as cold.

The skeleton of a small animal catches my eye. I bend down to extricate it from the sandy soil. Cradled in my palm, I carry it toward memory. Carry it gently as if it mattered if the bones shattered. Each time, anxious that I may no longer recognize the spot, that the ground will shift, I am relieved when my feet pick out the hollow in the final rise. I see her ashes, fraying lace along the gray-green bodice of the hill and I am thankful. In my lifetime I could not bear to come and find her broken body missing. I long to touch these remnants of her substance. I stoop and place the fine mammalian frame amidst her bones. I finger a piece of ash and breathe out sighing.

I fondle this remnant between fore fingers and thumb, crouched down against the wind. I hug my arms around my knees and remember our beginnings. It was on Roger and Jane’s sheepskin rug before the fire. I was drawn, a cluster of iron filings to her vulnerability and her strength. Five foot two, she could fill a room with pathos or with laughter. She would carry on, her fists splitting the air, the crowd in stitches, raising her power. She helped us to laugh at ourselves. No aspect of our humanity was verboten or, the protagonist in a psychodrama, she would reveal her injuries, her face creased by misery and loss. I could not leave her alone. I gave her my telephone number. Two days later she called. Then, house sitting in the Berkeley Hills, it all began. We faced each other chatting on the couch. We were specific about our lives, our dreams. She kept asking if she should leave. I kept asking her to stay. She stayed. There is something essentially natural about coming to love a woman and warm.

Sappho had pulled at my bridal for years. Here unchecked, safe with my own sex, I felt released to give. Trembling fingers, membranes, throat poured out auras, juices, sound. She was the competent one. I responded in kind. We were wild, joyful, and then, so that she would not be left, she ran. It was all there. I should have known but love, bit between the teeth, cannot be recalled. I would not let her go. I would not harm her. Those were my gifts to her and she, gentle lover, taught me how to suffer and to laugh. She would say, let yourself be little, and I was.

Human strength arises through our vulnerability. It’s a queer concept, rarely learned by men. Some lessons come harder to one body than another. Women, less endowed with musculature, have better access to this. Perhaps women can be teachers if there are pupils in the room. My lioness lover was the recipient of aggression as a child. I learned of it from her nightmares. Asleep, she would begin whimpering. No, no, don’t, and end screaming in fear. Nights in sequence men would pursue her, beat her, chase her to the wall. I suppose we could blame her father who beat her with a belt and lashed her with sarcasm at her mother’s urging. Tired, drunk, it is not hard to abuse one more demanding child. I met them in their sober years. He, a small, tough retired plumber, would dress up like a clown for his grandchildren. She, crippled by a stroke, spewed hatred of her lot on all who would listen and yet she loved to laugh.

Together they had reared 10 children in the church. Parental humility was a gift not received in time for this child, this middle daughter born with a caul. Blessed, cursed, she struggled with the terrors of the night. Touching her arm as she slept, I would urge her, “don’t run, turn and tell them to let you be”. She would fight them and me as well.  Leave me alone, leave me alone. We would both end quivering for our own reasons. Once I almost lost her. She told me she was leaving me. Went home, drank three tumblers of cognac and called for help. I came. Enraged by terror, she destroyed her room and tried to climb out a high window. Heavier and desperate, I wrestled her to the floor and pinned her until she passed out. We wrestled most of our dreams to the floor, yet lost each other in the end. We were lovers and partners for four dramatic years before she died.

Now sometimes, I am glad she is dead. I would not want her to see our friends living with AIDS as we lived with leukemia. I would not want her to know the body’s failure to fight infection has spread to the world. I would not want her to read that the abuse of children has reached the point where Guatemalan niños are sold for 20,000 dollars U.S. for their internal organs. I would not want her to witness the spread of suffering. The year before her last, Pat became a carpenter. She lifted weights in preparation, ran extra laps around the track, practiced yoga to center. She joined the union as an apprentice. She enjoyed going in drag in a green hardhat, a tool belt, work boots. She started right off in heavy construction. She looked tough enough, smoking a cigarette, being one of the guys high up on the scaffolding, strapped to a beam, healthy, beloved, even serene. She climbed close to heaven.

When I think of her now, I miss her life. When friends make me laugh, my body remembers. Having learned from her of suffering, I am less attracted to pain. I prefer joy, deep, visceral, determinative joy. My friend Meg and I in a hollow on this Mendocino Highland attempt to light a candle. Backs to the wind, hands shivering, we use up 13 matches, but it is done. Giggling at what she would think, kneeling steadily, we watched the beeswax drip and burn. Even the wooden base catches fire. Anywhere two women can light a candle in the wind, Pat’s spirit will live.

Marriage Revisited on Pride Sunday

A Sermon offered by the Rev. Mark Belletini
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, Ohio

June 10, 2012

Greeting, Centering, Kindling, Opening:

We are here

on beautiful sunny day

after a bright and beautiful week,

to worship, to approach the near summer’s gifts

with grateful hearts,

and to claim for ourselves the transforming joy

of deciding to be honest and loving in our lives.

And so, without guarantees, we lean into joy, and bend toward a just way of life, both for our own sakes, and for the sake of our children and all beings with whom we share the earth. We would engage our mission wholeheartedly, with courage, self-questioning, compassion, vulnerability and honesty.

Sequence

Just because the waves will wash away my footprints in the sand doesn’t mean I should never walk along a beach.

Just because an election comes out differently than I had hoped doesn’t mean I need to toss my convictions in the waste basket.

Just because a relationship of love or friendship does not last forever doesn’t mean that love and friendship have lost all meaning.

Just because life, as they say, is not fair, doesn’t mean I have to stop living in such a way as to help make it more fair.

Just because cunning politicians are trying to roll back all of Dr. King’s ideas about fair access for all, or are spending fortunes to effect the political process doesn’t mean its time for me to give in, give up, walk away.

Just because the glory river that historically, as the song says about the 60’s, “washed us up and washed us down” …when women claimed their voice and their power, minorities gained the ballot box and power, and gender and sexually diverse cultures flowed into the mainstream doesn’t mean that history has ended or the river has stopped flowing or yielding glory in our own era.

Just because songs are sung and words are spoken doesn’t mean that silence isn’t their equal in gifts for the spirit.

silence

Just because we are here doesn’t mean that the rest of our lives exist only outside these walls. In our hearts…and thus in this room…are all whom we know and love, all for whom we grieve, all with whom we struggle. We remember them now within this sacred enclosure of silence, that our full lives might be touched by all that is said and done today.

naming

Just because we all have different voices doesn’t mean that some of us can’t get together and make beautiful harmonies full of power and vision.

Laura Nyro, composer and author of our anthem this morning, was a remarkable musician. Shy in person, eclectic in her musical styles, she was a bisexual, married to David Bianchini for three years, bearing her son Gil with another man, Harindra Singh, and living out most of her life with Maria Desiderio. This song comes from New York Tendaberry, my favorite album of hers.

The First Reading this morning is an excerpt from the sermon offered at the Service of Thanksgiving for the Queen on this last Tuesday morning at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, by Rowan Williams, the out-going Archbishop of Canterbury. Because I had a hard time sleeping that night, I was up and got to hear it live on the BBC as the sun was rising in Columbus.

There is something transforming and exhilarating about the prospect of a whole community rejoicing together — being glad of each other’s happiness and safety. This alone is what will save us from the traps of ludicrous financial greed, of environmental recklessness, of collective fear of strangers and collective contempt for the unsuccessful and marginal — and many more things that we see far too much of, around us and within us. Its most lasting memorial would be the rebirth of an energetic, generous spirit of dedication to the common good and the public service, the rebirth of a recognition that we live less than human lives if we think just of our own individual good.

Listen to St Paul: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given us… the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness… Outdo one another in showing honor… extend hospitality to strangers… Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another… take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” Dedication to the health and well-being of a community is all this… and more.

The Second Reading consists of writings about marriage by the late Muriel Davies. Muriel was active in the All Souls congregation in Washington DC which her husband A. Powell Davies served for many years.

She helped him found several new congregations in the DC area, and after her husband died, she worked in one of those congregations as their religious education director. She was ordained by that congregation when she was 100 years old, and was immediately named Minister Emerita. She died at 103 a few years ago.

It used to be thought that marriage was part of the permanent structure of the universe, like the cycle of the seasons or the rising of the su. Marriage is nothing of the kind. There is no such thing as a single pattern of normal marriage. Furthermore, marriage is not dependable, and, in spite of the storybooks, it is not like the nesting of birds.

Marriage is a very recent development — particularly monogamous marriage — a matter of an uneasy few thousand years at best against previous millions — and therefore extremely unstable. It does not work automatically at all. And it is not instinctive. Mating is instinctive but marriage is not. And the difference is measured by the entire scope of civilization. It is not instinctive to be civilized — it has to be learned — and just as it is difficult to be civilized, so it is difficult to be married.

Nothing matrimonial is absolutely certain. Different kinds of people make different sorts of marriages. For a good beginning, physical attraction and compatibility are about equally necessary. A marriage without physical attraction is almost hopeless from the beginning. A marriage with only physical attraction becomes hopeless after a short time. Only upon the dual basis of attraction and interests and temperaments that can be harmonized is a marriage gradually built up.

Sermon

So it’s 1979, and I am sitting in my office in the first church that I served, our San Francisco congregation. I get a phone call from my secretary, Mary, saying that a couple of guys she didn’t know wanted to speak with me. I told her to let them in. So into my office walked two men I also did not know. They were in their late twenties, I estimated… my own age back then. I had them take seats. “What can I do for you?” I asked. “We want to get married,” one them said. His name was Lauritz, and he did most of the speaking. “Oh.” I said.

Now remember, folks, in 1979, nobody was talking about gay marriage as far as I knew. No one. No U.S. presidents, especially. I never even heard the idea once in my decidedly radical seminary. I never saw any books calling for it as a “right” in the famous gay-oriented Walt Whitman bookstore two blocks from the church. I could find essays which offered blistering critiques of legal marriage as a narrowly heterosexual concept without one whit of meaning for same-gender folks.

Again, it was 1979. Dan White had murdered Harvey Milk only a few months earlier. His verdict hadn’t come down yet. The only things sexual minorities were looking for in those days were a right not to be fired, a right not to be evicted, and a right to be able to teach, to minister, to police, to serve, and yes, a right not to be shot. Who had time for thinking about marriage with all that going on? I lived with my partner back then, but I don’t remember us ever thinking that marriage described what we were doing. In fact, Phil didn’t even like to attend marriage ceremonies, even for friends.

But here, within this context and history, were two men in front of me who simply asked me to do a wedding ceremony for them. I was taken completely off guard by their request. But I managed to say: “Well, I guess we can make that work somehow.” I didn’t know how I was going to do that, having never even seen an example of such a ceremony, nor having ever even imagined one. But I’d figure it out, I affirmed.

Lauritz told me that day he had been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, namely, he had been raised a Mormon. For him, marriage was not “til death do us part” but, as he said, for “time and eternity.” I reminded him I was not a Latter Day Saint bishop, nor was our building a Mormon temple. But he insisted on that decidedly Mormon concept as central to his own understanding of marriage. This surprised me, since a few years earlier, he told me, he had actually requested his local bishop to convene a council of excommunication so that he could officially be thrown out of the church for being gay. He was. Amazing! I for one am always amazed by the ways people deal with the difficulties of their upbringing.

When I officiated at Lauritz and Michael’s actual ceremony in the church, the two men on the chancel before me now vested in their simple suits, earnest, intent, it suddenly occurred to me what I was doing. And at that moment, tears dropped onto my cheeks as I said the words of the ceremony. Afterward, I used my best calligraphy skills in those pre-computer days to craft them a wedding certificate, which I signed and dated, even though according to the laws of California it was just so much paper. But marriage, I realized on that day once and for all, is not paper.

When I told a friend about this wedding I conducted — a friend both gay and totally unreligious in any ordinary meaning of the term — he said “Really? I don’t think I would do such a thing if I was a minister. It seems so… so… I don’t kno… unnatural to me to think of two male figures on top of a cake, or to talk about ‘two husbands.’ Look, why not just let the straight folks do their thing, and we’ll do ours. Whatever relationship I end up finding, I’m certainly not going to call it a marriage. Besides, what’s the average length of a marriage between a man and a woman in America? Seven and half years? That makes it a tainted word for me. So I’m agin’ it.”

I was a bit nonplussed by what my friend said, but I certainly didn’t let it spoil my day. I remained moved by my first experience of conducting a gay wedding.

But since then, I have heard the same word my friend used… “unnatural” …used by all of the opponents of same-gender marriage…in North Carolina, recently… and here in Ohio when we passed our own local Defense of Marriage Act a few years ago. When President Obama came out in support of the idea, the word really zinged back and forth all over the media like crazy. The word is used as if everyone is supposed to know what it means. But, as usual, I’m afraid it’s not that easy.

For instance, as far as I can tell, a plastic ball point pen is natural, that is, a part of nature. Yes, it didn’t grow on a tree, or shoot from soil, but it’s part of the whole we call nature, manufactured by people who are part of the natural world. A pen is certainly not supernatural. It’s not a ghost. It’s as much a part of the world, of nature, as are the folks who manufactured the thing, or you and me for that matter.

But I am sure when many folks use the world “natural,” that is not what they mean. They tell me it’s obvious to them. “Oh, you know exactly what I mean,” they’ll say to me. “Marriage is between a man and a woman and that’s the way it’s been since ancient times. All of this nonsense about same-gender marriage is new-fangled. And it’s ridiculous because you don’t find same gender behavior anyplace else in the natural world except among sin-perverted human beings.”

Well, 100% false. 100%, not even 99%. Both assertions. Well-documented same-gender sexual and even life-long mating behavior can be found in all of the animal realm which engages in sexuality… cats, foxes, elephants, giraffes, dolphins, all kinds of mammals… owls, gulls, penguins, ducks, ravens… all kinds of birds, salmon, bluegills… all kinds of fish, all kinds of reptiles, all kinds of amphibians and insects all observed, documented in detail and written up.

And without even attempting to outline the lengthy history of “non-traditional” marriage in human history (from the men called in Chinese the Cut Sleeves of millennia ago, to the Boston Marriages between women a century ago), we can show from the Western scripture stories, much revered in most conservative institutions, that marriage cannot possibly be defined by religious tradition as between one man and one woman. Why? Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the great Patriarchs, all had more than one wife. King David, who had many wives, also had made a “brit'” that is, a covenant… the same word used for marriage … with Jonathan, the crown prince. Nor can we say that Kim Kardashian is the low-water mark in disrespect for the supposed innate “dignity” of marriage, since the 8th century BCE prophet Hosea claims to have married a prostitute named Gomer who continued her professional work apace afte r marriage…. just so he could punch his preaching point home to his fellow citizens. For me at least, these stories yank the carpet out from under the proclamation that “one man and one woman has been the only natural marriage” throughout history.

Now St. Paul, in his decidedly influential Letter to the Romans, uses the word “unnatural” in reference to same-gender sexual practice. This is what he meant by that. He believed (quite liberally for the day, I must say) that God can be found in the natural world just as much as God can be found in the Torah. So for Paul, (who knew nothing about the same gender practices of those dolphins leaping beside his missionary boat,) the reason that men are with men and women are with women in Greek culture must have something to do with their “unnatural” practice… of carving statues and saying that these clearly fabricated statues in temples are God. Divinity, he insisted, is found in nature not carved , but left alone in all of its un-tampered splendor… stars and trees and waters left undisturbed to be what they are, revealing the Creator’s presence. So, he said, because the basic religious practices of the Greeks were unnatural… to wit, carving, painting and worshipping statues… it’s no wonder people got confused about sexuality, and therefore, their same-gender activity was a sign of this religious confusion. We know now that it was Paul who was confused, not the Greek pagans.

Later, Paul’s use of the word “natural” in Romans served as the foundation for what’s called “natural theology” in both major Western branches of Christendom. Catholic Christians meant one thing by this phrase; Protestant Christians meant another. For Catholics, natural theology, or as its often called, natural law , means more of what Paul meant… leave things undisturbed. Don’t try and stop pregnancy, don’t try and ease a person’s pain on their deathbed, and don’t do anything that would get in the way of the natural course of childbirth… including same-gender sexual activity or self-pleasure.

For Protestants, and many post-Christian non-Christians like Thomas Paine, natural theology mostly had to do with being able to discover the divine outside of scripture and tradition. You didn’t have to read about God, you can discover the Sublime by taking a walk in the forest, or noting the complexity of animal species, or staring at either an intricate spider’s web, or the stars in all of their sparkling beauty… and from these not-textual observations, you can discern that there is a higher power, a God, behind it all.

Again, as someone who can’t think of a single thing that is outside of the whole, outside of nature, neither of these two things speak to me. By the terms of the first, surgery is unnatural, so if your appendix is infected, or your new baby started to grow in your fallopian tube, you’ll simply have to die. This is senseless.

And, the second way of looking at natural theology doesn’t work for me either, for it arbitrarily treats the forest, or the web and stars, as if they WERE texts… texts referring to something else, namely God.

I can shiver in rapt wonder under the stars… in fact, I always do, no exceptions… but I don’t want to confuse my personal biological shiver with Ultimacy, with God. I’m not debating the existence of God here… which is always a futile and silly thing to do in my book. I’m simply saying that natural theology doesn’t help me when I think of ideas like either God, or same-gender marriage.

Marriage. Muriel Davies was right when she offered her own critique of natural theology in relationship to marriage: It used to be thought that marriage was part of the permanent structure of the universe, like the cycle of the seasons or the rising of the sun. Marriage is nothing of the kind. There is no such thing as a single pattern of normal marriage.

Exactly. Two men, two women, a man and woman… all normal. And she continues: Marriage is a very recent development — particularly monogamous marriage — a matter of an uneasy few thousand years at best against previous millions — and therefore extremely unstable. It does not work automatically at all. And it is not instinctive. Mating is instinctive, but marriage is not. Different kinds of people make different sorts of marriages.

As fine a statement about marriage as I have seen.

Is it a marriage where one partner expects the other partner to always stay home? Yes. Not my kind of marriage, certainly, but there is no central definition applying to all people that I can find.

Does it have to do with love? Well, sure, I suppose, but in the past, when marriages were arranged by families and not blest by official religious rites, that “love” usually showed up toward the end of the married life, not at the beginning. It grew and developed.

And strangely for some, the Western Church wasn’t terribly interested in marriage ceremonies till almost 13 hundred years after the death of Jesus. Virginity was favored by the church… not virginity in our modern, and I think, rather silly understanding of it as something merely biological, but virginity as a way of life for women and men outside the institution of marriage, marriage which the earliest Christians found mostly unequal, and often demeaning to the women.

And to be sure, for thousands of years, women were often simply sold as property in marriages, from ancient all the way to modern times. The English word “woman” itself comes from the two words “wife and man”… the wifeman. Remember how clerics used to say “I now pronounce you man and wife?” instead of husband and wife? It’s changed now, but only in the last 30 years. A wife was mere property, and her meaning was found only in her relationship to the male of the species. She was the wife-man. This is something still found clearly in Latter Day Saint theology. Women can get to the highest of the three heavens only if they are married and “sealed for time and eternity”… to a man.

The first English ceremony, in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549, doesn’t say a single thing about love. It mentions the giving of “earthly goods” and it uses the very poetic “with my body I thee worship” but it doesn’t assume love is part of the picture, only physical affection and economic sharing.

Marriage was not a legal, state-run thing until after Martin Luther, who insisted it was not a religious thing at all. The idea of registering with city hall, or the marriage bureau is VERY recent, in fact. The churches, both Protestant and Catholic, used to use the BANNS, meaning, a potential marriage was announced three times in church, and if no one objected, that was legal enough.

And lest you think that marriage was only a Christian custom, Jewish marriage has a complex history too. It was always on Wednesdays or Thursdays, and always took place outdoors, never in a synagogue. The ancient ceremony of the breaking of the glass was common from the second century on, but it wasn’t a religious rite, but a rite of mourning for the loss of nation and temple, a rite, as I said to the children this morning, blessing the couple for daring to partner in a world where the center of meaning can be torn down to rubble just like that. The ceremony needed family elders, but rabbis were not essential to the ritual until the 19th century. Interestingly one of the ceremonial customs that was dropped in this century was the Mazol Tov, now reduced to a congratulatory shout, where the bride danced, one-by-one, with all the women who had come to the ceremony. Again, the only paperwork was the kethuvah , the marriage agreement between the couple and their families. The state wasn’t interested in regulating marriage and handing out privileges on paper until modern times. In fact, even as late as the 1980’s, common law marriages (that is, marriages entered into privately without ceremony or legal paper work) were the norm in some states. According to the way the laws were written, in fact, even though I was partnered with a man for 16 years, I must have been legally married to him according to the common law practice. Those laws were changed within my own memory in most every state.

And so here’s mostly how its been throughout history, men were with men common law, women with women common law, and men with women common law. Often, communities knew about these arrangements, and throughout history, many same gender couples were welcomed into society without incident, although mostly we hear the opposite story.

And I think the Archbishop of Canterbury touched on this social element in his marvelous, if controversial, sermon for the Queen last Tuesday. (“Too liberal!” the conservative press whined.)

“There is something transforming and exhilarating” he said, “about the prospect of a whole community rejoicing together – being glad of each other’s happiness and safety. This alone is what will save us from the traps of ludicrous financial greed, of environmental recklessness, of collective fear of strangers and collective contempt for the unsuccessful and marginal — and many more things that we see far too much of, around us and within us.”

He then spoke of the “common good” which he styled as a “rebirth of a recognition that we live less than human lives if we think just of our own individual good.” “Listen to St Paul,” he says… and when he said that, I found I didn’t want to, since this is the same St. Paul who, in the same Letter to the Romans, completely misunderstood same-gender sexuality as well as the word “natural,” thus gumming up theology for a couple of thousand years. But, after realizing it was arrogant to hold Paul to modern discoveries, I decided not to turn up my nose in superior righteousness, and listen, and this is what Paul wrote: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given us… the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness… Outdo one another in showing honor… extend hospitality to strangers… Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another… take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.’

These words of Paul well-summarize the theology that propels me to support same-gender marriage in every state, in the whole of this nation. To recognize, echoing the archbishop, that when we concentrate on serving the common good… that is, good that is for everyone, not a few. .. we put greed on notice… since greed lifts some above others. We put fear of strangers on notice, since no stranger is outside the human race; we put environmental recklessness on notice, because the natural world is a common home for all, not the private profit domain for some; and we put contempt for the marginal on notice, since in a world where everyone belongs, nobody can be marginalized. Same gender marriage is simply the right step in the right direction, leaving behind us in its wake its distorted forms: arranged marriages, forced marriages, ownership marriages, single-race marriages, single ethnicity marriages, and every form of marriage which keeps some people marginalized and subservient.

The first same gender couple I married, Lauritz and Michael, are no longer alive. They fell during the early HIV years. But their simple ask in my office 33 years ago, “We want to get married” will live in my heart for the rest of my days.

Offering

All may participate in the life of the congregation with the gifts of their mind and hearts, their skills and time, their wisdom and their vulnerability, the gifts of their livelihood and the gifts of their commitment. Whether on Sundays at this time, or on Wednesday afternoon, whether by electronic means or gifts in a wicker basket, we offer of ourselves to make community happen.

Closing Prayer: Love Feast for Pride Week

Let everyone come from east and south and west and north to sit together at the table of tomorrow’s feast.

This morning through word, silence and song,
the table has been set, and so now I offer you the
sweet, sweet foretaste of equality, the enticing bread of life that is to be shared with one and all without exception, the fruit of letters, legislations, grass roots efforts and impassioned writing and giving,
the brimming cup of life which remains
ever fresh and full to those who admit their thirst.

The full plate of love’s nourishment I hereby
offer to all. Taste and eat, the supper is ready.

Blessing from UU Ray Bradbury 1920-2012

The world is more fantastic than any dream. 1953
The universe created us. We are an audience for miracles. 2008
A life’s work should be based on love. 2008.

The Pearl of Great Price

A Sermon on the “Hot Topic” of the Decade, “Gay/Lesbian Marriage”
Offered by the Rev. Mark Belletini

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, Ohio
March 26, 2000

Opening Words:

We are here

to receive the gift of the world with open hearts,

and to return gifts in kind of reason and compassion.

Blessings on this hour

its peace and power, its promise,

And blest is the strength and mystery called Love,

binder of our strong community,

sustainer of our daily lives,

our pathway and our true destination,

the substance of our hope,

our best dream for all humankind.

The First Reading is an edition of a much longer article by Stephanie Salter, a newspaper columnist that I first read in the San Francisco Examiner back in 1996, the date of this particular piece, but she is found in many newspapers around the nation. This is a longer reading but the second one is very short.

In 1936, Heinrich Himmler established the Third Reich’s Central Intelligence Agency for the Struggle Against Homosexuality and Abortion. In a February 1937 address to SS Leaders, Himmler laid out the logic of part of the struggle: he authorized the “extinguishing of abnormal life,” i.e. the murder of homosexuals.

Germany had lost two million men in the Great War. Meanwhile, the estimated number of German homosexuals was two million. “In other words,” Himmler continued, “a lack of four million men capable of having sex (with women) has upset the sexual balance sheet of Germany, and will result in catastrophe.”

Lest anyone doubt the significance of his phrase “sexual balance,” he said, “There are those homosexuals who take the view ‘What I do is my own private business, a purely private matter.’ However, all things which take place in the sexual sphere are not the private affair of the individual, but signify the life and death of the nation.”

Sixty years later, in May, 1996, Oklahoma Representative Steve Largent co-sponsored a bill — actually titled “The Defense of Marriage Act” — that would ban same-sex marriage by defining marriage as the “legal union between one man and one woman.” At a press conference, Largent said, “The bond between man and woman exists as the foundation of American society. As the family goes, so goes the nation.” Lesbians and gays should not be allowed to marry, he said, because they “don’t procreate.”

Now no sane person would argue that a strong nation does not need strong families. The screwy thinking today, from a vote-hungry Democratic president as well as from Republicans like Largent, is in the idea that strong families come in but one rigidly defined standard model.

The reality, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is that strong, weak and average families come in many varieties. Forty nine percent of United States children live in a family structure other than the alleged perfection of mom and dad under one roof. Further, as any American can attest, many strong happy families have no children, and don’t plan to. How long before the status used by the likes of Largent — “they don’t procreate” — will deny legal marriage benefits to childless heterosexuals?

It is 1996. This great (and prosperous) country of ours still staggers under debt. Medicare and Social Security are on the verge of extinction. Millions of job-holding, tax-paying Americans have little or no medical insurance. We have the highest per-capita rate of incarceration of any civilized nation. The drug addicted and insane live in ever-increasing numbers on our city streets. The violent virus of racism snarls beneath the anxious hum of daily life. The gap between the wealthy and the poor has never been wider, or more abetted by government.

Threats to the stability of the family are plentiful and severe. So what do Congress and the President hail as protection and reinforcement for the family? A ban on two people who want to officially pledge their loyalty and commitment to one another. Himmler would have seen the logic.

The Second Reading is a story or parable spoken by Jesus; it is found in several gospels, but the form in which I am giving it is considered by critical scholars to be an authentic utterance of the Galilean wisdom teacher. The Quelle, or Source called Q, a collection of Jesus’ Jewish teaching stories and proverbs that lies behind our present gospel editions, is dated usually to around the year 50 of our era.

There once was a pearl trader who found an expensive, perfect pearl. So he sells all of his stock in trade for that one perfect pearl.

Sermon

Several years ago, I was privileged to attend the wedding of a member of the congregation I used to serve. She was widowed after a 53-year marriage; a few years after her late husband’s memorial, she met a man she came to love, a widower himself, and they decided to get married. The husband’s minister, also a Unitarian Universalist, officiated at the rite.

They were in their late seventies, and yet the strength of this new relationship completely transformed them both. I saw two twenty-year old “kids” living inside their eyes. This gave me no little joy.

The same day I attended that wedding, two gay men called me at home wondering if I might officiate at their wedding “as soon as possible.” One of them, you see, had been given a short time to live… no, not AIDS, kidney problems. They had only been together for a few months when this health problem showed up. They had hoped to have a more elaborate ceremony one day, but the life-threatening condition changed their future plans. I told them I would be glad to come over to the hospital to officiate. And as I talked with these strangers on the phone, I was repeatedly touched by their mutual affection. This, too, brought me great joy.

The sheer power of marriage was evident to me in both these cases. But as you know, all over this country, including here in Ohio, state legislatures are tripping over themselves to join the Federal Government in a simple proclamation. To wit: the first couple I mentioned, even though they will not procreate, may make a marriage, whereas the second couple I mentioned, though they will not procreate, may not. Why? Their love is perceived as a threat to the nation.

Part of me grieves that this is so.

Part of me, if you’ll excuse my language, doesn’t give a damn.


First, this morning, the part of me that doesn’t give a damn.

I never had a wedding ceremony, but I was married nonetheless for 16 years to a man named Phil, the very man who composed the opening chant we sang this morning. We are no longer together, but I think it’s fair to say we still care about each other very much.

Phil did not want to have a ceremony. Oh, we talked about it, and he was very active in his church, a liberal Christian church, which supported such ceremonies. But, for many reasons I will not go into here, Phil just didn’t want a public ceremony, and I eventually acquiesced.

This reluctance about public wedding ceremonies had little to do with Phil being gay. After all, I have officiated at hundreds and hundreds of “legal” heterosexual marriages. And I tell you now, if I had a dime from every husband who thought there might be a way to wiggle out of such a ceremony, I would be in Tahiti right now from all the bribes. On the other hand, if I had just a quarter from every husband and wife who have told me with mock surprise that “everything is different now since the ceremony,” I’d be on the beach in Bali in a hammock between two palm trees.

And though I agree that sometimes ceremonies can serve to demarcate differing stages in a relationship, I also agree with Phil that ceremonies, in and of themselves, don’t make a marriage, any more than ordination makes ministry. If a member of this church comes to you and cries about a great sadness in his or her life, you don’t have to call Wendy or me just because we are ordained. Your own shoulder, offered to blot their tears, provides a fine and very real ministry, I assure you.

But this business of marriage ceremonies is even more interesting from an historical perspective. History reveals that for over a thousand years, the Christian church itself didn’t even offer marriage ceremonies. There were no such things. Oh, people got married, yes, but not in church or with clerical rite. Marriages were arranged by families according to financial or clan concerns that had nothing to do with something so ephemeral as love. Or the groom simply kidnapped the bride, or bought her from a person of the same class; or they just moved in together, with or without a party.

The word “woman,” in modern English, comes from the old English word “wife-man,” revealing that the woman in heterosexual marriage was only valued as the property of the man. She was “given in marriage,” not as a sovereign person, but only as an asset and an heir-maker. The awful phrase in the traditional English ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer, “Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?” is a linguistic fossil of this reality.

The first religious marriage ceremonies are not recorded till the Middle Ages. It was only in 1076, a thousand years after the first gospel was written down, that Archbishop Landfranc of England ordered priests to “bless marriages.” This was not a church ceremony… the couple just received a benediction on the steps of the church.

However, things changed around the 1200’s. Around that time there were large groups of heretics in Italy, France, Bosnia and Bulgaria who taught that the material world was basically evil, and that bringing babies into the world was not the best thing to do.

So their religious leaders lived lives of complete celibacy, although the members of the congregations were allowed to marry and raise children. These heretics considered women to be sovereign equals to men. They even served as clergy. And it was from the ranks of these heretics that we get the Troubadours, the famous singers who wrote about the chaste love of men and women with popular and beautiful melodies. These were the first true love songs in Western Europe; but they celebrated not sex, but love itself, as an emotional and deliberate commitment between equals and friends.

Men and women leaders among these heretics lived, not as husband and wife, but as brother and sister. This ascetic lifestyle really irritated the church government in Rome, which by this time had come to preach the celibacy of its clergy, but which invested in brothels for them under the table. The common people, always hoping that religious leaders might practice what they preached, abandoned the church in droves and joined up with the heretics in great number, attracted to their consistency, and their doctrines of equality and love.

The church in Rome responded to this teaching in two ways.

First, they sent a mercenary army in a crusade against the heretics. The soldiers killed them all, men, women and children, at least in France and north Italy. The Bosnian heretics they largely captured as slaves.

Second, the church, (somewhat chastened by the ideas of the people they killed,) began to formulate an elaborate sacramental system. They declared that marriage between a man and a woman was a sacrament, that is, an outpouring of grace on earth. They furthermore allowed that love and devotion in marriage was more important than class or wealth, which upset all the barons and kings who thought they controlled all the European family systems for their own profit. Third, they said that the couple alone made the sacrament. The priest was only a witness, and did not effect the marriage, merely recognized it. This began to lift up the status of women considerably. But the secular state didn’t like it one bit.

So then the Protestant Reformation begins in the late fifteenth century. The reformers abolished the sacramental system straightaway. They redefined marriage as a freely entered covenant, not as a sacrament ordained by God. And, because it was primarily the princes and gentry that supported their reforms against the Church of Rome, the reformers gave over all legal aspects of marriage to the state. They affirmed that the marriage is spiritually witnessed in the church, but legally created only by the laws of the state.

Henry the VIII made sure that the state had control over the church so that he could divorce his wives in good conscience when he wasn’t having them beheaded for treason. Henry’s marriages, in fact, are one of the things for which he is famous. I’d wager, since there is an awful lot of combined historical information gathered in an assembly of this size, that if I asked you, you could give me the names of all six of Henry’s wives. (Note: they did indeed come up with all the names! Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.)

But lest you think I have moved off the topic of two people of the same gender living the married life, let me ask you another historical question: Can any of you name the man that was partnered/”married” to Leonardo Da Vinci for over 25 years at the same time as Henry the VIII, a time longer in fact, than any of Henry’s marriages?

(His name was Francesco Melzi.) The very idea that this is not common knowledge poses the problem I am addressing today very well. A whole vast history of same-gender relationships has been deliberately obscured off the face of the earth.

But Leonardo and Francesco didn’t have a ceremony, you say. Perhaps not, but it does not mean that folks were not thinking of such things in those days. Just a few years after Leonardo and Melzi had both died, in Rome itself, at the church of San Giovanni, priests openly solemnized the marriages between two members of the same gender right in the sanctuary. Of course, it wasn’t too long before the clergymen who did that were all burned alive in the piazza not far from the church. And that too helps to express the problem that prompts my talk this morning.

As I said, since the days of the Reformation, marriages between a man and a woman have been in the provenance of the state. Even a common law marriage, a form of marriage that survived from the days before there were ceremonies of any kind, and which has a place in English and therefore American law, is a legal form of marriage only because of that law. Most Christian churches since the Reformation call living together without benefit of ceremony “living in sin” not “marriage.” But the churches can whine all they want… it is the so-called secular state that controls and defines marriage to this very day, not them. They gave up control during the Reformation. When I solemnize the marriage of a man and woman in this very Meeting House, I can do so, not because I am ordained by this congregation, but only because I paid a fee to the state of Ohio for the privilege of witnessing a state-blessed legal transaction. When I do weddings, I am legally only a witness for the state. (Thus, so much for the fiction of separation of Church and State, right?)

The state can decide capriciously that common law marriages are marriage. Or it can decide they are not, as has happened in many states of this union. The state can decide that brown skinned folks and beige skinned folks may not marry, as they have many times in our history, or they can decide otherwise. Even in California, the imagined font of so many egalitarian ideals, marriage between blacks and whites was prohibited by law until 1947, which, I don’t have to tell you, is not all that long ago.

But you know, people of every color fell in love and got married anyway… often without benefit of law. This is why I am convinced that Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most inspired bits of theater… thousands of people who are not supposed to get married for all kinds of ridiculous reasons have nonetheless chosen to get married… and have suffered for it.

And so it has been with men and men and women with women. They have always joined in the “honorable estate” of marriage, with or without ceremony, and always without the state’s poor little blessing. Some have even been luckier than Romeo and Juliet and lived to old age.

In our own century, I think of composers Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti, together for many decades; or in England, composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Peers. Not far from that church in Rome where men could get married for a while in the 1570’s, Gore Vidal has lived with his partner for 30 years. Gertrude Stein lived with Alice B. Toklas for 39 years. Christopher Isherwood, the author whose short stories led to the musical Cabaret, and artist Don Bachardy met in 1953 and spent their lives together. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon have both lived together for forty-five years and revolutionized women’s health care on the West Coast. My hero, Bill T. Jones, on the front cover, used to kiss his life-partner Arne Zane at the end of each dance concert they did, and I’ve told Bill many times how much that meant to me. Then there is Arthur C. Clarke and his bisexual partner in life, Hector Ekanayake. And even in our own Unitarian Universalist history, do you really think Phil and I, with our 16-year marriage were introducing something entirely new to it? Hardly! King John Sigismund, known as the first and only Unitarian king that ever lived — he was king of Transylvania during the days of Suleiman the Magnificent — was also in a relationship with a man, and never married a woman. He spent his brief days with Gaspar Bekes before he died of illness at age 31.

So the main reason I don’t give a damn that the state does not approve or support gay and lesbian relationships with the institution of marriage is that we’ll just do it anyway. Because they dared for a century to deny Euro-American and African-American heterosexuals the right to marry, I don’t trust their moral sense at all. It’s hard to imagine they would make any improvements on what gay and lesbian folks have done for themselves anyway. We can use other legal means, after all, to get most of the benefits of legal marriage if we really put a lot time and money into it… even the right to visit our spouses in the hospital. Anyway, where does anyone get off dictating who can commit to whom anyway? The hubris is remarkable when I think of it.

I intend to do what is good, and not what the bought and sold State says is right. I will serve Love, (or God, if you will), not the cringing politicians of this nation. I want to live an ethical life based on humane reverence for the realities of real lives. I have no intention of living an expedient life based on innuendo politics, or, God help us, some posturing TV minister’s cruel and idolatrous way of using the mistreated scriptures. The call to live such a life… and please note that I have a life, not a lifestyle… in the face of the state’s frown is not going to be easy, but who ever said that doing the right thing is a piece of cake?

For some reason, my parents knew an awful lot of childless heterosexual couples when I was growing up. Whether these couples wanted children and could not have them or not, I cannot say. It’s not important. All I know is that my parents never once suggested that I should pity them, or think their life was tragic or lacking. We knew single people too, divorced folks, and elders living alone, and families where no one was related by blood. Not once did my parents ever apologize for any of these people in advance when we went to visit them, or suggest something was wrong.

So I am convinced Stephanie Salter is right. The shape of the family in this nation is varied. Condemning family shapes and forms, while ignoring the national debt, addiction and alcohol problems, domestic violence, health insurance debacles, gaps between rich and poor, and catastrophic ignorance about race, class and cultural differences, is outrageous. These are the true threats to healthy, multi-shaped families. But what does the state want to do instead? Define as a major threat to the family two men who love each other or two women who love each other. The absurdity of this infuriates me so much I get exhausted just carrying that much wrath around all the time.

So you see, in the end, I just don’t care what the state does. It hurts too much to care. Fighting against the tidal waves of biblical literalists who have taken over our national culture, removing science and their own children from the public schools, pushing over and over again in public the view that all human beings are entirely worthless without God’s grace… this requires an exhausting and constant energy in able to face every day without paralyzing exasperation. I confess it leaves me weary. So part of me, for health’s sake, has to simply give up and not care, and live my daily life deliberately outside the range of their pitying smiles and protests of “Don’t you know we only say this because we love you.”

Sorry, telling me I am worthless both by nature and by reason of my love is not at all a way to say you love me. It’s a way to dismiss me completely as a human being.


Ah, but you know, I do care.
I do give a damn.
I care a lot, and I grieve deeply and am sad.
This is the other side of my coin, and I need to address that, too.

Let me do that by outlining my own history of solemnizing same sex marriages.

I did my first such ceremony at First Church in San Francisco in July of 1979. I had never seen such a ceremony before, so I created one from scratch. As I processed up the aisle to the altar in front of the two men, I wept. I felt as if I had lived to see the dawn of what some Jews call the Messianic Age, and what the New Testament refers to as the Realm or Way of God. I felt that the whole world was created anew, and that justice actually had a chance to exist in reality, not as an abstraction.

Later, when I found out that Harry Scholefield, minister emeritus of that very church, had performed such ceremonies back in the 50’s when no one could even think of such a thing, I wept again for the sheer compassion and courage he showed without anyone around him to support him.

I officiated at twenty more such weddings before I left San Francisco for Hayward in 1980, my first solo settlement as a parish minister.

Hayward was a culturally mixed, working class community, very different from upscale San Francisco. I was not sure how open the lesbian and gay community in Hayward was. Things seemed much more restrained there than in the big city. Nevertheless, two women in the community, not church members, asked me to officiate at their ceremony, and I was glad to say yes. Like many Hayward residents, they were working class, barely so. They chose to have a potluck reception since they could afford little else. They were so poor, in fact, I did not charge them to do the ceremony. I did like them immensely and looked forward to the wedding day.

On the day of the wedding, when I arrived at the simple Meeting House we used, I fell into shock. They had put a cross up in front on the altar, even though neither of them claimed any Christian faith. One of them was dressed in a black tux, the other in white gown… they were the traditional bride and groom. They had given me no indication of their arrangements during our counseling sessions. The bride was walked down the aisle by a man dressed as “the Father.” The groomsmen and bridesmaids spread out in borrowed tuxes and pastel chiffon. A friend of theirs hauled in an electric organ to play the traditional Wedding March. I was appalled. I had never seen such a thing at San Francisco, where every couple I married slaved for months over “meaningful” and “unique” ceremonies with all traditional references deliberately expunged.

Nevertheless, I just kept my mouth shut and did the ceremony we had agreed upon. But I did decide to go to the reception, something I hardly ever have time to do.

I didn’t have time that day either, but I was now interested in finding out more about what I had just seen.

The potluck reception was held in the large back room of a smoky bar. Men and women of all colors and cultures gathered there, the exact demography of multicultural Hayward in miniature. African Americans; Americans of Haitian, Samoan, Chinese, Korean or Japanese descent; Euro-Americans… all were there. Women in wheelchairs, grandmothers with walkers, children running wild, and folks of every sexual orientation chowed down on the Swanson’s macaroni and cheese and trays of cured salami. Then came the dancing, with hunched and happy 78-year-old Japanese men dancing jitterbugs with leather-vested lesbian motorcyclists in t-shirts. There was joy and more joy everywhere. It was a portrait of the Hayward working class in miniature. It was also a portrait, I thought then, of the Millennium, that Jewish Messianic Age I mentioned before, that New Testament vision of a divine Age of Justice and Peace, the so-called Realm of God. It was, in short, a portrait of how the world could and should be… a rainbow of joy, of love, of gladness.

Then it hit me. I had been suffering from a class prejudice. I had forgotten that the reason upper middle class and well-to-do folks of any sexual orientation spend so much time putting meaning and creativity in their wedding ceremonies is because they can afford to. Money wise, time wise, education wise, support wise. They are often self-determined, self-confident, and do not need to turn to others to grant them their own validity.

But among the disenfranchised, there is rarely such support. There are no invitations to self-realization and all the fancy words we use for self-determination: “I will do as I choose.” Instead, we have a reality, not of independence, but of plain ordinary dependence. These two women, I realized, were unsure of what they were doing, not emotionally, but socially. They were not sure if they had the right to do such a thing. So they chose to use all of the common assurances of so-called “traditional marriages” to bestow social legitimacy to what they chose to do. A father, a cross, a tux, gender specific dress… all of this legitimized their love for each other in the eyes of the world… their world.

They were in no way mocking traditional weddings as I had foolishly first thought. They were only borrowing the signs and symbols of legitimacy.

It was then I knew how sad I could be. That’s when I knew how much I care about this subject. That’s when I knew I wanted to help make a world where self-determination, and the stubbornness of purpose and self-assertion I can afford to feel, is available to everyone. No one should have to beg and submit in order to live with the person they love. No one.

And no one should be turned away from hospital beds where their partners lie sick, or have half of their furniture hauled away from the house by the non-approving parents of a deceased spouse, who won’t even speak to them. No one should have to pay insurance twice, or pay gigantic legal fees to arrange to get the rights a heterosexual married couple gets just by having the law on their side. The laws around committed partnership are either equal for all, or they aren’t laws but legalized harassment.

And let’s not have a discussion around the word “marriage” either. That whole language issue is just a red herring. There will always be lots of important words that folks use differently for compelling philosophical and personal reasons. Arguing about them with rancor and righteousness is just what the congresses and assemblies of this nation would like you to do. If we fight each other about final words, fight each other about whether the word “marriage” is too patriarchal or outmoded or controlling or whatever, they know they can sit back and rest, because they’re smart enough to know that circular arguments siphon off energy best. I say, let’s use a hundred words. But let’s do a hundred things as well, to confront this issue because we care enough about our children and their children to try and hand them a better future. A future, I pray, different from the present, where I have to spend at least part of my time not giving a damn just so I can get through the day.

And what about the title of this sermon? The pearl of great price? Oh, that’s just the old-fashioned translation of the title of the parable you heard this morning. A pearl merchant gives up his whole stock so he can own this wonderful, perfect, expensive pearl. “The pearl of great price,” as they elegantly said in King James’s day, (King James who himself fancied only members of his own gender.)

But Jesus told that parable for a reason. Think about it. That pearl merchant may love the gorgeous baseball sized pearl he bought one day, but in the end, he will have to sell it back and return to his stock of little, more ordinary pearls. Why? So that he can buy and sell and exchange them at an ordinary rate. The pearl merchant cannot, after all, eat the expensive pearl, or sleep under it. He can only look at it and admire it. He cannot make a living with it. That requires ordinary human exchange.

The same thing is true of same-gender marriage. I tell you truly, one day the states that make up this great nation of ours will bless same gender marriage. Oh, not for many years. Belgium and Germany will pass laws before we do. Even Mexico and Argentina. Nederland and the Scandinavian nations are already years ahead of us in this regard. But make no bones about it, one day, same gender marriage will be a reality.

And when we get that pearl of great price, what will we do with it? Will it bring us perfect peace? The Messianic Age? The Realm of God? Hardly. You see, same-gender marriage is not really much different than mixed-gender marriage. As I said, whether you want to use the word “marriage” or not does not concern me a great deal. No matter what word you use, when folks live together with commitment and love, still, someone has to take out the garbage, someone has to walk the dog, or put the kids to bed, or have conferences with the teacher; both parties have to kiss and make up, fight and play, struggle to understand each other and struggle with insecurities.

In the end, Jesus’ parable helps us remember to think things through. The pearl of great price… the great gift of same sex marriage… will have to be replaced with the smaller less expensive pearls of everyday life, the exchanges and compromises and little conversations that make love and life what it is.

But you know, that’s all I really want.

Prayer

Breath of my own breath,
Something wells up in me now.
Is this what some folks call prayer?
“Love is the doctrine of this church”
We’ve said for years and years.
“Doctrine,” we say, teaching, you know,
As if we’re all still students,
Learners, not perfect, still unfinished,
Eager faces open even to the kind of wisdom
That yanks the carpet out from under our feet
But which still provides strong arms to catch us,
A wisdom that will laugh with us
Put a hand on our shoulder and say, “Get up now,
We can’t get anything done if you sit down there feeling sorry for yourself, can we? Come on, get up,
Let’s you and me do something together now,
Let’s continue to learn by teaching,
And teach by learning,
And teach by breathing,
And by singing,
And by doing it even more
Than we feel like it.
Breath of my own breath.
Maybe this is not a prayer.
And then again, maybe is.
Who’s gonna judge?
But I know at least one thing.
It’s my life I am talking about here,
And whatever I’m doing,
I’m singing for my life
And for all lives!

Hymn: We Are a Gentle, Angry People
(Tune: Singing for our lives)
I first heard this song the evening of the night Harvey Milk was murdered.

Odyssey of Mark (Marco) Belletini

Well here I am. 70 years old. Knew that was coming, but didn’t think it would come so soon.

Well here I am. A father for seventeen years to my adopted son Tony. Never saw that coming at all, but wow!

Well here I am. With a nifty heart condition, bit fingernails, sore knees (now and then), bowed legs, “pink eye,” and tiny German hearing aids. Have worn glasses for 66 years. I used to bury them in the back yard as a kid, I hated them so. My parents just thought I lost them and never figured it out.

Never smoked. Did only a few drugs; don’t like what they do to me actually. My brain seems to churn out lots of ecstatic chemicals all by itself.

And here I am, healthier, Dr. Rich says, than I have been in 15 years, despite two hospitalizations, a foot broken twice, and a persistent cough from all the meds I take to thrive.

So here I am. My third odyssey. But so different this time, because so much has happened in the 22 years since I gave my first one.

It’s 50 years after Stonewall, almost a 100 after the Harlem Renaissance, and Weimar Berlin. And now, so much good research going on about our Unitarian Universalist paths and sexual/ gender variations. This I applaud. And I will certainly lift up a lot of what I know about this in my Odyssey. But note, this is about my life, not my gay identity.

And, to be clear, when I say I am a gay man, this is a political statement. It is not an existential statement. It’s a useful word politically, certainly, as are lesbian, transgender, bisexual, asexual, pansexual etc. But the reality is the word “gay” applied to me gives you almost NO information at all about my erotic life, except to name the general direction my erotic life leads me. But it does not tell you anything about my inner life, my needs, my fantasies, my sexual practices or my broken heart.

I am, more accurately, a Marksexual, as there are Janesexuals, Lamarsexuals, Lucysexuals, Miguelsexuals, Aikosexuals and Seansexuals and a million other rather individual ways of expressing the erotic electricity that runs through many, if not all, of our bodies. We share a political and social existence, but our inner erotic lives, even if we dress up wildly at a pride parade, are mostly invisible, except perhaps in the memoirs of brilliant writers like Ned Rorem or Audre Lorde. I’ve said these words I am saying now to every congregation I’ve served. I’ve also offered sermons where I have lifted up bisexuality, sexuality’s partner; spirituality,;same-gender marriage; GLBTQ history; polyamory (some colleagues thought I was just a troublemaker when I gave that one. I wasn’t.) But this is about my whole life, not only my erotic “identity” per se.

Beginnings

So here goes: my mother Elisa told me the story of my birth on June 16, 1949 1:15 in the morning (same as our beloved colleague Mark Morrison Reed) every Christmas evening for most of my adult life. It was an important ritual. Alexander Blaine Hospital. Detroit, Michigan, with streetcars, a world-class art museum, and a thousand factories, one with 50,000 employees.

Doctor Powell. Nurse Pauline. My mother, awake, not drugged. When I am born via forceps, my mother’s first words: “Is he whole?” Pauline: “Oh yes, and he has the most beautiful eyes.” They take me to see my grandmother Carmelina and my father Louis. My pre-Lemaze era father cries in horror because the forceps made my head look like a Klingon’s. My grandmother just whacked him: “He just came through a very small door. Laci’ esta, e bello.” (Leave him alone, he’s beautiful.)

Home was with Carmelina and Nazzareno Belletini, my loving grandparents, for my first year, in the middle of the Detroit’s very large ghetto, (a Venetian dialect word for the isolating Jewish quarter there. My grandparents were surprised to find that word here.) I grew up in Emilian culture, since my other grandparents, Anna and Umberto, were cultured the same way, the culture of the mountains above the ancient town of Modena. Same dialect, same food (homemade tortellini in brodo and borlenghi.) And, same cultural realities, which were distinct from most everyone around me. Emilian dialect was spoken in the home as well as English. For example, my grandfather used to say “Egvol tant curaj aney vetch” which means, “It takes a hell of a lot of guts to grow old.”

Parents move to Springgarden Ave with me when I am one. Sister Lynne is born, brother Robert. Small Cape Cod bungalow. After 3 years at public school, Catholic school till age 12, since the public schools were going to bus me across town and my parents wouldn’t have it.

I was an effeminate boy, to use tiresome binary language, in movement and speech. My father brimmed with shame because I hated team sports, and other “male” things (although I could swim like a fish.)

My father was a complex man. He could laugh, sure, and do generous things, but most of the time he was a human Mt. Vesuvius, with my sister, brother and mother standing in for Pompeii. He was unfailingly kind to my friends, and to guests, but as soon as they left, we were all witnesses to frequent, meaningless rages.

More frightening to me as a younger person, I also witnessed many nervous breakdowns, my father crawling across the floor speaking in high pitched baby talk, pulling on my mother’s apron and saying in his baby voice “Mommy, don’t leave me.” My mother had breakdowns too, less severe, more like a fish out of water gasping for breath, but breakdowns nonetheless. Both talked with me, in rare moments of self-reflection, about dreams of suicide, of driving their cars into walls. My father never remembered his breakdowns, my mother did, his and her own.

My four grandparents saved me. They loved me lavishly, deeply. Carmelina especially was my first real teacher of what love and friendship really mean. Both Carmelina and Anna kept up with literally hundreds of friends who visited them, came for supper, to whom they wrote long letters. Both were world-class cooks, and like other Italian immigrants, kept fig trees in their back yard, which we had to bury every fall, and raise up every spring to grow sweet figs. As I age, I realize that they have always influenced me for the good more than my father and sometimes my mother, and remain my true models for my present life.

My mother worked out of the home once I was in high school, so our home was quieter. Her anger took the form of tears or silence. She was a great and creative Italian cook, but my father dominated her as well. She was smarter than my father too, and read things all the time.

Friends, part 1.

As I said, I was an effeminate child. In walk and talk. I had many friends on Springgarden Avenue, but I was clearly different from them. One day, when I was 10, the whole group I used to hang out with turned on me and decided that I was not welcome among them. They beat me, raising a welt on my head. They tormented me whenever they saw me. I was confused then, but now I realize that I terrified them because of my mixed gender appearance in a binary world. I could use the modern words homophobia or even a kind of gynophobia, but for me, then, it was simply a huge broken heart, great fear and confusion. Since then, cultivating friendships on the model of my grandmothers has been the central practice of my entire life, perhaps spurred on by this horrific betrayal of friendship.

I was a “good” Catholic, an altar boy, loving the Latin. In high school however, I discovered yoga (long before anyone else did I think…it bothered my ma.) And I discovered biblical scholarship at the library. I slowly, very slowly, began to evolve past my Catholic culture and theology.

My new high school friends, Chuck Rzepka, Tom Zambettis, and Frank Siskowski in particular, were important to me. In our senior year, our teacher Conrad Vachon asked us to group-create films with our parent’s super 8’s and editing machines, (“Films are the new literature,” he told us.) And together we had an astonishing time making movies, lying in the grass to catch cool sunlight angles, editing, attaching music, making disappearing titles. 1967. Then the Detroit Uprising that summer, with smoke and tanks in our city, and ruins and anger afterward and the near death of a great city. Our ’67 yearbook began with photos of the smoking ruins, which was emblematic of the world we were graduating into.

College. Oakland University. Rochester MI (where Madonna grew up down the street from my senior year apartment.) New friends. Classes in French. Sculpture with Morris Brose, Russian with Helen Kovach, a formidable person whose mother Julia I used to call Babushka, “grandmother,” when I grandma-sat with her while Helen was on sabbatical. She was very old, knew Nicolas and Alexandra. And met Tchaikovsky when she was a little girl. History first became alive for me at that moment.

I was active in the radical Newman Center for a few years. I served as liturgist. At the behest of my priest, I studied under the amazing Clarence Rivers in Cincinnati, gained important radical insights about worship from him which I still use. But despite all that, I slowly I relinquished my religion. Became more like my other grandpa, Umberto, an articulate non-theist who hated all religion. I even painted this triptych to express the influences that led me there, rather than scribbling some new revised credo on a piece of paper. I’ve always been an artist first.

Life Before Stonewall

I let my parents into my life at age 16. See, I like this new way of talking about coming out, which doesn’t give the power to those you come out to. So, now I say I let my parents in. But in those days, they still had the power, didn’t they? I didn’t use the word gay; it wasn’t used in Detroit then before Stonewall. I was a homosexual. Worse, I realized my parents knew less about what that meant than I did (and I knew nothing), but they assumed was cross-dressing. I rolled my eyes back into my head and despaired. I did not want to live at that moment. I contemplated how to end my life. I couldn’t undo what I had said. But after days of deep silence, they sent me to a psychiatrist, who also knew nothing back in those days, and assured me religion was my problem and if I just stopped going to church, I’d be “better.”

I had no sexual experiences with anyone but myself. None in college. Never went to a bar. Didn’t know they existed. No gay friends. No gay anyone that I knew of till my senior year, and that was just a chance meeting at a party.

I attended a Unitarian Church one day after meeting Jane Ranney, the fiancée of my friend Chuck Rzepka from high school, who had been raised UU. Their lovely wedding was the first UU service I ever saw. But the Sunday service I attended that day was terrible. Boredom squared. I was also the only one with an Italian name, the place was a mess, and no one greeted me. They didn’t sing either, just played Quinn the Eskimo on a record player. Embarrassing. I was upset, but nevertheless, I later found an old Universalist church in Farmington, and started attending. I loved it: music, creative services, Underground Railroad era building. I was working with emotionally impaired children at the time at a residential treatment place, Hawthorn Center, a job I loved, but on my off-Sundays, I loved going to church with my rather wild minister, Rick Neff. I first travelled to California on a vacation during that time with Tom Zambettis and we visited Chuck and Jane who had moved there.

One day a woman who interned with my treatment center called me, six months after she went back to school in western Michigan. She told me her husband had just shot himself to death, and thought I might know what to do. I talked with her a bit, suggested she call 911, then calmly drove three hours west to help her figure things out; we talked of anger, what might happen after death, funerals, grief, and all the tumult that follows a suicide. But before I left, I asked her why she called me. We hadn’t been in conversation since she left. She answered: “Because you are not shockable, and can listen to things gently and aren’t scared of impossible questions.” I really didn’t know that about myself. It was a revelation to me. I was just living my life from day to day.

On the way home in the rain, I rained too, and, crying, realized her phone call was my “call to ministry,” something I had not really imagined for myself before. I asked for an application to Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley the next day. (I knew about Meadville, but Chicago was too close to my father.) A month or so later, Jane Rzepka called to let me know I was in; she was already in her 3rd year.

Leaving my grandparents was sheer heartbreak, for them and me. Leaving my father was bliss. Leaving my mother made me sad for her more than me. My sister said she cried “for 4 years straight” as she put it, irritated that she had to deal with it, not me.

I went to SKSM in 1975. Ron Cook, Til Evans, Kimball, Setchko. I loved Ron and could sit in his office and talk for hours. Truth be told, I never really understood anything Kimball said. Taught classes, one with Til on food and religion, which was heartily mocked, yet became one of the more useful classes for congregational ministry as the years went by. Also taught the gospels, which has been a lifelong study of mine, (I’m still active in the Jesus Seminar.) My favorite class was at Pacific School of Religion, with Mark Jurgensmeyer, on Gandhi. I also studied the Hebrew prophets with the monumentally erudite Baptist Marxist Norman Gottwald, and studied the Reformation with the formidable John Dillenberger, who, we joked, seemed to know Luther personally. I still talk with Ron frequently, and wept long when Til died, since we were close. I was able to see part of her memorial via Skype, which was helpful to me.

Life After Stonewall, Part 1

I was sexually inactive. Terrified. No GLBTQ ministers out there for me to talk with, no role models. I was not interested in being the new queer UU Moses, so I was paralyzed and didn’t know what to do. So I just did nothing. I kept busy. I did my student ministry at Walnut Creek for two years, preaching often, and doing 4 weddings a weekend sometimes. I took four classes per semester. I did my CPE with Rod Seeger at University of California Medical Center in San Francisco, and then my full-time internship in Rockford, Illinois, with Tony Perrino, whom I loved, (along with his wife Karen) and who was like a beloved Italian father to me. But, as most of you know, he was eventually disfellowshipped by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee for dozens of sexual affairs in his various churches, which I personally never caught a hint of. His lies to me broke me. But eventually Til Evans and I were able to restore partial relationship with him and would drive over together to Karen and Tony’s place in Marin to watch movies and eat supper.

Reading in Scientific American that Carl Sagan, whose writings I adored and used frequently, was going to produce a VERY expensive television show called Man and the Cosmos, about cosmology and space, cheeky intern me wrote him a letter and suggested he check with the English Department at Cornell about the dated use of the word Man to mean everyone. I suggested Humanity and the Cosmos, “or just Cosmos,” I wrote to him, because “humankind is not really separate from the universe.” The letter he wrote back to me, (on the table there) reported they were considering my suggestion, but that he humorously worried about naming his show after a soccer team, (the Cosmo’s.) It is one of my most beloved treasures.

On my last day in Rockford I had a very strange experience. I was unable to sleep, and actually quite delirious. But I had a clear, overwhelming feeling, (call it woo woo, if that makes you happy,) that my life in my 3rd year of school was about to change wondrously. It was scary/wonderful and lived within me all the way back.

And something did happen. Within a month of getting back, I had fallen in love for the first time in my life with new student. He talked about his girlfriends, but it turns out he was on the continuum, a Flipsexual, since Flip was his name. He seduced me, and quite beautifully, like in some novel, dancing for me by candlelight, disrobing and lifting me into his bed. It became, instantly, “the full catastrophe,” to quote Kazantzakis, with an inability to breathe right, with awkward sonnets coming out of my mouth, limerance at an upheaval level. When it all came crashing down, my broken-heartedness was a pain I had never felt before. I wondered how civilization survived love and heartbreak at all for months.

But in the end, after some drama, we remained friends. I solemnized his first two marriages to women, and was best man at his third, and his third wife Susan and I eulogized him in Kansas City when he died of early onset Alzheimer’s. He didn’t go into ministry; he became an entertainer. Saw him on TV shows, visited him in Lake Tahoe where we had dinner with Sammy Davis Jr., one of his good friends. (Not immune to being star-struck, I would just sit there and smile and think “Oh my god! I am having dinner with Sammy Davis Jr.)

I don’t know where I got the strength for being with him and his wives since I never just stopped loving him, but as they say these days, love is love.

Incidentally, it was the late Mark DeWolfe who, after Flip and I realized we could not be together, took me in his arms as someone lovable again. This was before he was a student at Starr King, and eventually an intern at the first church I served.

I “let others into my life” again after realizing I could not possibly minister and also lie. Anne Heller and I did what we then called a “coming out” chapel, and I gave a sermon to that effect in Walnut Creek, after which everyone there hugged me one at a time for an hour and a half.

I graduated, could not find ministerial work. Pre-candidating after pre-candidating ended in disaster… as soon as they found out I was gay, they told me “We can’t deal with that.” My heart broke a lot… at least they were honest. Some members of search committees apologized to me at General Assemblies thereafter, lamenting that they had not gotten their “act together.”

I met Phil Porter at a gay rap group during this time (rap used to mean talk, not music.) One week we went on a date, and swiftly fell in love, and for 16 years we had a very happy relationship. We were very different from each other, (he ate, I dined; he was morning, I was night) and we had our days. But we were the holiday boys, having folks for festive family dinners.

As time went on, we did what some gay men do at least, and “opened” our relationship. Some are a bit bewildered when they find out that we sometimes had our other erotic friends over for holiday dinners with our other friends, or that Phil and I were entirely open about it, i.e. “I’m going out with Juan Carlos tonight.” “Have fun!” But we felt it deepened our relationship. He wrote Gathered Here in our hymnbook, so you have sung words and a melody from his heart. He traveled a lot in our years together, to Australia and Thailand especially for his Interplay work, an improv system he invented with his friend Cindy. He’s a UCC minister now, and his partner Chinh has grandchildren whom he loves. Our break-up was a complex thing, but we are fine with each other now, and remember those 16 years with gladness. I thank Rob Eller-Isaacs for ministering to me on the actual break-up day when we were NOT fine with each other, and I was a blubbering wreck.

I worked at a Bank of America as a teller to make money to live. Never balanced but twice. During that time, both the Guyana Suicide disaster happened, and the great Harvey Milk was murdered, along with the SF mayor by a man named White. The police-teller next to me found out right away, via walkie-talkie and told me, just five minutes after it happened. I don’t know how we arranged it pre-cellphones, but Phil and I both marched with 30,000 others that night down Market St. It was there I heard Holly Near sing We Are a Gentle Angry People for the first time.

During this time, those of us who were in the GLBTQ crowd from SKSM met on Sunday afternoons to support each other as we got said “No” to by congregations where we pre-candidated. Lucy Hitchcock, Barbara Pescan and Anne Tyndall, Charlie Kast, Mark de Wolfe I believe, Lindi Ramsden and a few others would debrief after pre-candidating sessions. I seem to recall Lucy got the most impertinent and uneducated questions from search committees.

We ended up writing a little question and answer pamphlet, patiently answering uneducated questions with rational, kind answers. This we sent to David Pohl at the UUA, who took it seriously and reproduced it. Both he and Chuck Gaines were really supportive of us in those days, so much so, that at the GA in Salt Lake City when I delivered the Living Tradition Sermon, Barb Pescan and I sought them both out and literally thanked them “for our jobs.” Our pamphlet morphed over the years into the affirmative action program which exists today. Back then it was mostly GLBTQ focused, and I worked with as sort of a “demonstration gay preacher” at search sites. We did amazing work on that team and I too learned a lot from the process, and heard moving stories that changed me.

The marvelous Diane Miller, here present, realized that someone like me had to get their foot in the door if there was going to be any progress, so she asked me to be her assistant interim. Gratefully I started work in April the year after Milk’s murder, and served till Sept of 1980. The White Night riots in protest to officer White’s lenient sentence for murder, with overturned flaming police cars, happened right outside my window a few months later. Chuck Rzepka had to phone me to tell me I had to come home a different way, because our offices were soundproof and I didn’t even know what was going on out there just beyond Starr King’s tomb.

The congregation in San Francisco ordained me — Anne Heller, Diane and Til all participating — and they alone laid their hands on me in a private confirmation that I was not in the apostolic succession of my childhood church. My lover Phil danced on the chancel.

During that time, Mark De Wolfe, Barbara Pescan, and Robbie Cranch served as interns, during a much looser arrangement than exists now. As Diane said today, many considered the two odd years we were there to be “the Golden Age.” Diane and I got to hear 85 year old Bodhana Haspl tell us the story of the first Flower Ceremony in Prague (NOT communion!) as celebrated by her father, Norbert Capek. I also did my first same-gender weddings there. Two guys, Lauritz and Michael, came in and asked me to do it. No one thought of such things in those days much, so we worked it out together, but I did burst into tears during the ceremony when I realized what I was doing. I also became close to Harry Scholefield, the emeritus, and he was my beloved mentor till he died. He of course had done such things back in the fifties, if a little discretely.

Starr King Church in Hayward called me, and I thrived there 18 years. It was a small congregation, in a simple building, but the search committee did not ask a single uneducated question. “Be so kind,” Wink Smith said to me, “as to teach us about what being gay means. We don’t know, but we want to learn.” They were supportive in every way. They were a true working class congregation, with a lot of old CP members and union organizers, and several “red-diaper” baby Jews, who knew less about their heritage than I did.

I preached without any notes or manuscripts back in those days, winging every Sunday, using no pulpit, and had a ball doing so. It freed me to go out with friends on Saturday nights. We danced together on some Sundays, I crafted repeated rituals they had not seen before, but came to love, like the elemental Seven Blessing Naming ceremony for babies. They didn’t have a hymnbook, but I taught them rounds and simple chants which gave them confidence. I even pasted up a little quite illegal song, hymn and liturgy book to use so I didn’t have to print up the order myself every Sunday. I had no secretary. We eventually hired a musician. And a secretary, Phyllis Perry, whom I loved dearly, and was quite ministerial.

One highlight in those years was serving on the ceremony planning commission for the IARF at Stanford University. I was chair of the committee, and pushed to get Maya Angelou as our main speaker, since I got to know her when she preached at my internship church. She wasn’t as well known until after she did Clinton’s poem, but I had also heard her preach at Glide Memorial and knew she was astonishingly good.

I met her several more times, quite by chance, and finally had drinks with her in Chicago and told her about a behind-the-scenes catastrophe at Stanford having to do with her speech and the translators that had us both in stitches. She was remarkable. And the IARF conference small group experiences with people from around the world supplied me with sermons for years.

When Dru Cummins called me up to tell me the nominating committee wanted me to chair the hymnbook resources commission, I said “No, I don’t sight-read music and I am completely disorganized, so thanks and everything, but no.”

Then hung up. She called back. No one said No to Drusilla. She told me everyone else could sight read, and that she would fly me to Boston to hire the staff organizer who would do that work. I finally capitulated and said yes.

Six years. My congregation was supportive. Most colleagues were. But there were a few of what my generation of ministers referred to as “the old boys” who wrote us diatribes that chilled the blood even before present computer cruelties. As chair, I had to deal with that. I also had to deal with a staff member at the UUA who made trouble for us, but the great Kay Montgomery saved us after I talked with her.

The committee was more fun than anyone can imagine, and as the members have been dying, I have been weeping. The book needs something to replace it now. I did a lot of prep for this work. Talking to the chair of the Blue Hymnbook Committee of 1963, Arthur Foote II in Maine, was a moving moment. He asked me to sing, solo, some of the new songs we chose, just to him alone, as we sat together by his huge roaring fireplace. Gruff committee member Ken Patton softened as we talked during lunch, and spoke with a confessional tenderness that made me weep. I felt often like I was swimming laps in the sea of our living tradition.

Based on our joint mentor Harry’s devotional life, Laurel Hallman and I led devotional retreats for fellow ministers at Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara. These were rich events for both Laurel and me, I know, and hopefully those who joined us.

Friends, Part 2

I made friends outside the congregations after some early internship student ministry mistakes. Alex Stevens, a dancer who routinely said he wanted to grow old with me as friends, not lovers. John Zimarowski, a writer for Christopher Street magazine, cook, traveler and wit par excellence. Stephen (Stef’n) Mistler, Mr. San Francisco Leather and chief tailor for Macy’s, my best friend, my heart, my dear brother. In time, I sobbed for and buried them all because of AIDS. I led their memorials, weeping.

When Stephen died, it was the BCE/CE split in my life, Before Stephen and after Stephen. I was strangely ecstatic with a sense of thanksgiving that I loved him at all, for a few weeks, as Meg Riley can tell you; then unfocused, depressed and suicidal for months. My congregation had been terrific, telling me to take off time as he was dying, then movingly coming to the shul where I personally led the memorial but joined the generous rabbi for kaddish and oseh shalom at the end. But I really didn’t want to live for months. It was also just a few months after my separation, so I was in bed depressed for months, getting up to preach on Sundays.

Frank Siskowski died, too, my high school friend, and Mark de Wolfe, and John Sikes and Juan Pablo Oregon and my beautiful Dallas Williams. All men I loved. My gay men’s life- drawing group sopped my grief for a couple of hours each week… thanks to Mark Chester, who reliably ran and still runs the group. After Stephen died, I didn’t even go there for a few months. Everything was meaningless. But, I moved forward. I did meet Kevin Woodson in the group, and Stephen’s surviving spouse Richard Sinkoff, and his next lover for a time, Doug Robson, entered my life fully in those days. Richard was the first and last “grieving partner” I’ve ever had. We are brothers, family. Words cannot capture how fortunate I am to love such friends. Doug took me on a civil rights tour in Alabama for my birthday this June, and Richard and I just came back from an amazing European trip together. My friend Paul, Doug and John, the Mennonite couple, and many more blessed my life as others died, leaving holes that do not close in my heart, but my heart grew to embrace others deeply.

Life after Stonewall, Part 2

I eventually moved to Columbus when my ministry in Hayward was finished. I could do no more, and burying people got harder and harder.

I loved them, and they loved me, and it was a healthy departure. Mary Harrington and I almost served another church together, but that didn’t work out, so I left California alone.

It was not easy, and Columbus was not then what it is today, a truly great city. I spent my first three years depressed, but pretending not to be. The former minister had left a divided congregation, there were troublemakers galore whom no one confronted, and congregational boundaries were not very good in general. I eventually did archeological work and discovered that I was an “after-pastor,” as they say, of a congregation which had any number of clergy engaging sexually with congregational members, including with a sixteen year old boy back in the late 50’s.

But my time at First Church was pretty amazing by most standards: a gorgeous building and memorial garden, a mostly terrific staff (the “mostly” is because we had to fire an administrator who proved pretty awful at the end), many choirs, including a 65 member choir for the 11 AM service that could sing impossibly beautiful things every week. And, yes, the really splendid folk always outnumbered the troublemakers.

When I led a pre-Easter Eucharistic service in the egalitarian ad-lib manner of our Socinian ancestors 400 years ago, and joined our large Jewish membership in celebrating a full Seder during Pesach, (with a haggadah I composed with encouraging rabbinical friends) I felt fulfilled and happy because of the very moving responses folks shared with me every year, including many Jewish guests from the environs. Sunday preaching got richer ever year, the liturgy we put together over time, with feedback, was elegant and beautiful week after week.

I was an active part of the local interfaith social justice group of congregations, BREAD, the largest in the nation. The Ohio River Study Group has become and still is an important part of my collegial and intellectual life, and over the years I’ve written many papers, and led worship there. In my last years, things hummed along pretty smoothly in Columbus; working first with Wendy Fish, then with Rev. Eric Meter and DRE Jolinda Stephens was a dream come true. Such wonderful partners in this work.

But it was also during this time when my father died (it was a relief to me), and then, a year and a half later, my mother. But my mother changed after my father died. She became funny, i.e. literally a comedian. She apologized for not having been then for me when I “came out,” and during the AIDS era when I buried most of my friends. She became, in short, who she had always been but wasn’t allowed to be. She also reported that my grandfather Umberto, her step-father, whom I loved, had molested her when she was 12. That sent me into a tailspin for a while. But after a week of talking about it, she said: “I’m done now. I am never talking about it again.” When she died, I wept, grateful to have had my real mother, un-cowed by my father finally, for at least a year and a half. My once beautiful and smart brother Robert lost himself in alcoholism and drug use, something my parents refused to deal with, even after he spent 7 full weeks in a hospital posey-belted to a bed, and delusional.

He died a year after my mother did. His memorial was one of the hardest I ever did, because in many ways, he never lived his life, his life lived him.

Other Ways I Served Over the Decades

My over-long, over-fretted about Sermon of the Living Tradition in Salt Lake City in 1999 was an unnerving experience, because after a year of totally neurotic rewriting, all I could see was the first row of peoples’ feet as I stood in that pulpit. I preached to the darkness. Most people were kind, but I was very rough on myself.

I traveled to many CENTER presentations during the hymnbook years, exploring musical styles and getting feedback with colleagues all over the continent. I wrote an essay on aging along with others in this room for a book edited by Kay Montgomery. I also wrote about my own relationship as a UU minister to Judaism, both in and out of our congregations.

I spent a year writing a study of our sublime ancestor Arius of Alexandria which I delivered at a Starr King History conference right in front of one of my heroes, John Dominic Crossan, who had just given his paper, and was relieved when he remarked that he found it a very fine piece of historical research.

I wrote the history of Abraxas and the Humiliati for another conference; a history of radical theological antecedents to (and for) the Unitarian Congregation in Praha; major book reviews of two gay books for various UU publications, and delivered a lecture on G-d-talk for Abhi’s seminary for lay people program. I also gave the Judy Lecture in the Prairie Starr District annual meeting, on, get this, Lakota theology. I thought I had been asked to give a lecture on hymnody, and two months before the lecture I was informed it was about Lakota theology (“You should have known because its being given in Sioux City, Iowa,” I was told!) and although I protested, I managed to do a passable essay about my relationship and anger about European attitudes about the native nations here, having been part of an archeological dig near Cahokia in my internship years and learning how little I was ever taught in school.

I taught worship both alone, and with others Lindi Ramsden & Therasa Cooley, at both SKSM and ML, etc. I gave the Mark DeWolfe Lecture in Toronto, basically his larger eulogy. One sweet event was being granted a D.Min from Meadville Lombard for my work on the Hymnbook Commission, and preaching the graduation sermon that year at Chicago First. I also gave a lecture series on hymnbook theology at SW institute and at Seabeck, dedicated the Mark de Wolfe AIDS house in Seattle, and was chaplain for three consecutive years at Ferry Beach for GAYLA, a gay men’s summer week of fun. I served three years on the Berry Street Essay Committee, which was a superlative privilege and got to offer the invocation for Mark Morrison-Reed’s moving, on-point essay.

I supervised many interns over the years as well, Axel Gehrman, Joel Miller, Barbara Hamilton Holway, Gretchen Thomas. I had fun covering the Dallas Church for a month while Laurel was on sabbatical. I also enjoyed sitting on the Ministerial Fellowship Committee for 8 years, chairing a panel. Plus, over the years, preached at 28 ordinations or installations or wrote ordination songs/hymns for colleagues. One of the most interesting of these was the ordination of Hans Legrand, a citizen of Nederland who attended my congregation in Hayward, returned to Europe, studied ministry through the UK system, and then flew me over to preach his sermon. There was a soccer riot right afterward with tear-gas and flung Heinken bottles which made it unusually memorable.

Going Places

I am very grateful for the opportunity to be educated by travel in my life. The European Unitarian Universalists flew me to Europe five times to lead worship, lecture, and lead life-ceremonies like coming of age ceremonies and Naming Ceremonies. Oberwesel on the Rhine, Germany, twice; Berlin, and Koln Germany, and Spa, Belgium. Preached in Paris once too.

I helped lead a UU group from Ohio on a tour of Israel/Palestine in 2000, and visited my friends Farley and Virginia Wheelwright both in Mexico City and San Miguel. I visited my internet-friend Ionut Stefan in Bucuresti, Romania one summer, and the Soviet , including the island Kizhi in the middle of Lake Onyega, in glasnost days. I visited Chile, to visit my friend Bonni, her husband Ignacio and my “goddaughter” Andrea there. Both Russia and Chile were mini-sabbaticals. After I retired, I also visited Italy again, this time with my beloved friend John Finkbone, where we take the 2 and a half hour bus ride from Modena up into the Apennine Mountains where my grandparents’ ancestral town, Fanano, charms in the center of a Yosemite-like national park. I wept a lot there, seeing the specific Italian names of my youth festooned on all the shops, and walking the whole length of the Via Belletini, (a total surprise to me,) named, I suppose, for one my ancestors. I’ve preached in both Hamstead outside of London, and in Manchester, after leading a worship retreat at the Nightingale House for the marvelous UK ministers.

But the most remarkable trip way out of the country (not counting frequent high-school age trips to Canada from Detroit, just across the river or preaching trips to Canada’s Toronto and Calgary) remains the first. My friend Anne Heller asked me to cook a thank-you party for all the folks who, a few weeks earlier, had helped her and her lover Rosemary paint and arrange their new house in Oakland. It was a UU barn-raising, so Anne’s widowed father could move in with her and Rosemary quickly. Since I love to cook, I was happy to help. “Make it an Italian menu,” Anne says. We shop, I cook all day, people arrive. Turns out I am cooking my own surprise party! Rob and Janne Eller-Isaacs, along with Anne and Rosemary, decide over a supper conversation, where they noted I had never been to Europe, to send me to Italy, and asked all my friends and colleagues to each contribute some money to the fund. I found this out in a playful way, (I won the “door prize” lol) but when it sinks in that it is really happening, I bolt into the kitchen, push a table in front of the door, and sob hysterically on the floor. The loving kindness overwhelmed me completely. The tenderness of this amazing gift is still with me to this day.

And my congregation in Hayward, upset they were not asked to contribute, collected another surprise gift and sent me on that trip to Chile. A woman in the San Francisco congregation, hearing this story, sent me on my first sabbatical, to the Soviet Union. My friend Doug, in a similar spirit, offered miles on United for my trip to Romania. The congregation in Columbus, upon my retirement, gifted me 12 grand to travel to Italy with my friend John because search committee members remembered that I told this story when they asked me about events that changed my life. The stone in the pond and all that. But the inner voice that tries to tell me that I am somehow not loveable…a voice forged in the fire of my father’s rage, began to evaporate that day.

Il mio carissimo figlio

I met the man who was to become my son when he was 19, at a dinner party put on by my sweet friend Babar, who cooked a Pakistani meal for his friends to show us what foods he grew up with. We became friends after that night. And I learned about his life, which was pretty awful before his 19th year: mother died of cancer and father was put in prison a long time for counterfeiting. Raised in foster families with his sister, then by his grandparents, he experienced some pretty out of control disciplinary actions even though he was brilliant in school, star quarterback and a pitcher good enough to try out for the Cincinnati Reds.

He’s lived with me and also out of state with lovers, but he returns to our home and is living with me now. Our relationship as babbo and figlio literally brings me to tears sometimes, it’s such a wonder. Our conversations about love or heartbreak or anything leave me in awe. He is brilliant and loving and tender and insightful all the time. He is 36 now, and our relationship deepens. He’s dating a guy I really like right now, who joins us for dinner. But although I have been a minister, my primary identity since I retired has been dad and friend. I can only hope you would be lucky enough to meet him someday. More words than these simple ones fail me.

Friends, Part 3

My friends in Columbus have joined my surviving friends from the Bay Area to create a deep and intertwined family for me. Loving-friendship, sheathed in astonishment, is the major theme of my life, as it was with my beloved grandmothers. These photos on the wall and on the tables in front of me are my life now. My identity does not limit itself to what is inside my skin, but leaps outward with love so I can say that every single one of these people are part of who I am.

My address, my accomplishments, the hymnbook, the sermons, the books, and even my body are all just temporary and are not, finally, me. But love partakes of something which has the depth of eternity, and when all of those things and my body are gone, the love I feel for others will be passed on and shared centuries from now, but with different faces, different names, different temporaries. The most important part of me is that love, not anything else, including my name.

Richard Sinkoff and Doug Robson and Kevin Woodson in California are brothers to me, fratelli. Richard, who speaks more languages fluently than I can count on my fingers, and I, as I said, just came back from two perfect weeks in Europe for my 70th; we think the way we travel together, and talk together, is an art-form. Doug I talk every single day, and have for a while, and I cannot now imagine not doing that. My love for him deepens every day. In Columbus, John Finkbone, and his beloved gorgeous, talented “pet-whisperer” love, Tyree Sheperd, are family; it was John who wonderfully accompanied me to my ancestral Fanano, Italy. He is incredibly good with concrete things in a way I am not… maps, gadgets, machines, and he is devilishly playful, as well as generous and kind. Geoff and Ally… Geoff lived with me a while after a rough divorce, but in Ally he has now found a perfect treasure. Goeff and I can talk and laugh for hours, and a night out with him restores me even if I am not in need of restoring.

I met a someone almost 7 years ago now who has transformed my life as a friend I love. I saw him at my local café, his arms covered with tattoos, including an Auschwitz number. I asked him if it was one of his grandparent’s numbers. “No, Elie Wiesel’s,” he answered. “Are you Jewish?” “No, my father is, but my mother is not, nor am I.” “What’s your name?” “Christian.” “Ah,” I said, “a story.” He’s certainly one of the deepest, most brilliant people I know; he was thankfully wide open from the first about his heroin and other addictions, which did not prevent the depth of our friendship. He’s relinquished the drugs, settled with his girlfriend Emily, and thrives in grad school. He is transparent in a way I can only admire, and even as he faces past traumas head on, he is playful, a quality I adore. We even play tag sometimes. He will surely be a well-known writer one day, and my love for him puts the ground under my feet.

Three baristas, now former, at my café have become friends… Sean, now a terrific father; Nate, who featured beautifully in a sermon I gave, and who lives in Arcata CA now, but visits for dinner when here; and Alex, my “rock star friend,” who is also my opera buddy for trips to Cincinnati Opera. My first great and redeeming friend in Columbus, William Green, now lives down in the Carolinas on a small boat; we talk often; he is a brilliant photographer among many other talents; and my friends Matt and Jesse live in Florida too. Jesse was just up, Matt will be in Columbus when I return. I’ve known Shane since he was a teenager in a bar, figuring out the life opening up before him. It’s been my privilege to get to watch him mature into an incredible man in his late twenties whom I admire and love deeply. My former neighbors here, Fred, and Rob, are wonderful friends who both have the power to double me over in laughter with their swift wit. I always tell Rob I see him as governor one day, but I really am not joking. Jimmy, whom I have known 20 years now, calls me uncle, and he and I have been through thick in thin. Over the years I have helped him buy his truck, he’s done handy-work around my place, and his mother, brother and daughter have been to my loft. Jet skiing with my talented country-boy friend Josh, photographing the world of Columbus with my friend Kalum, delighting in visits from Tim, a former Ohioan, who just introduced John, Tyree and me to his husband Dann; taking long walks with Jake Adams who lives in Lima, watching scifi films with Anthony or John Wehibrink, having the warm and life-loving friends Mike and Mel for supper, or going to the new exhibit at the museum with Jared after some dinner at my place. Rosario is my only local Italian friend, and it’s important for both of us I think… we get what it means to be Italian American. Or my friend Devon, whom I unexpectedly met via YouTube, lives in Houston, flies up frequently so we can do local museum and art trips to nearby cities. I just was in Houston to see him and preach there.

In New York, Adam Chuck, whom I met on Instagram, is a sweet friend. I own four of his amazing paintings now. Dakota, John’s former love, is someone I love to spend time with, as are Matt and Kip, who I have visited everyplace in the country where they have lived, as well as helping to solemnize their wedding. Rita Fredericks, 95, is a friend of three years. Wise, hilarious, her apartment filled with great art, she delights me with stories, such as how she almost drowned Roy Cohn when they were both 12 years old after he tried to cheat her in table tennis. “Sometimes I wish I had succeeded” she reflected.

My friend Max in NYC is a delight who has more sheer life-wisdom in their little finger than anyone else I know. They have been my joyful living teacher about trans and neuro-diversity as lived in his life. I find myself immensely happy in their presence, and also as I contemplate their future work as a therapist. Ash is someone I met on-line who writes about his trans life so beautifully and with such precision I turned Skinner House editor Mary Benard on to him as a possible author on such topics. He gym-trains me when I go to NYC.

I met my stunning friend Ionut Stefan on line… he lives in Bucuresti, Romania and I have visited him, and we whats-app each other; he hopes to come here next year. Certainly I have collegial friends too, like Jane, but especially Jay Leach, a former Baptist minister who I taught at a Starr King Summer School session and eventually became one of our truly exemplary ministers as well as a friend, and David McFarland, whose family in Pittsburgh I visit, and of course, Kelly Flood and Neil Chethik, who were members of the congregation I served in Hayward before she became a colleague. My visits with them and their son Evan are always like a visit home, safe and sound. Ned Wight accompanied me to Israel-Palestine, which was great fun, Kathleen Rolenz and I have enjoyed working together on several projects with joy, and are working on one now. Scott Prinster and I love each other fiercely, and was always my GA roommate over the years. Then there are the long phone calls about family and life with Carol Hepokoski, whom I first had a long conversation with on the steps of Starr King School.

My friend Tom Ace lives in the desert of California, and is perhaps my most serene and rational friend… he cannot lie, distort or even exaggerate in the slightest, but is clear and truthful and plainspoken in a way I admire and almost envy. His outstanding photography illustrates his calm spirit. My cousin Sergio has lived with his two husbands for over two decades now… yes, I married them… but I also consider him a friend out in LA.

I’ve still lost friends too, after the AIDS era… Devere Wright lived with me for two years, delightfully, when he was suddenly homeless, but he died of HIV though the meds were there. His mother and I tried everything to get him to face it but he would not. Apparently there is a pattern found in young African American males 20 years old of being resistant to dealing with it… not sure why. Doing his memorial in his hometown of Cleveland put me in a tailspin. Sweet Bob died of an overdose in his early twenties; John Finkbone called me to tell me when I was in Manchester UK with the Unitarians there, and we wept together, me in my hotel, John on the highway in Ohio at 3 in the morning. Jeff Abraxas Dade, an incredible painter of wall murals all over Columbus, and who was part of my drawing circle in Columbus, died of pneumonia at 39.

And of course, past ordinary friendship, there is my godson Ben, son of Lindi Ramsden and her partner Candace originally, but they are with other wonderful partners now, and so Ben has four moms now, and me; the privilege of being in his life for these last 30 odd years is one of my life’s greatest blessings, as was being part of the wedding ceremonies of Adam and Toby Rzepka, or watching Toby build amazing structures out of nothing when he was a kid, or spending time with Adam when he was in grad school and I could meet his friends and take him to his first opera at the Lyric.

 

I meet my friends in ways that are unusual I suppose. My friend Andrew I met as he served a restaurant I frequented late at night; before he moved to Alaska, one of our many conversations turned into an Easter sermon.

Andrzej I met in Columbus, at a bar, no less, an economics professor at OSU and a wonderfully tender and smart man. He and his wife and daughters live in Abu Dhabi now, after some time in Maastricht, Nederland where I visited them a few years ago. Chris Nusbaum, whom I met dancing in a gay bar, is my fearless political anchor, as well as a farrier and blacksmith. The chef’s knife he made me is the best one in my kitchen. And Bonni, a college friend, now lives in Chile after living just about everyplace else. For years I read her letters in services as readings and mostly knew her through those letters.

My friend Bernie, whom I met at my cousin Sergio’s house in LA at an Academy Awards party I cooked, and who now lives in Indianapolis after years of me visiting him in NY, was in many ways the last great love of my life. I really was “in love” with him at first, and we talked every day. He is married to someone now, but we are as close as can be again, and I cannot thank him enough for blessing my life. He is someone whose voice on the phone immediately puts me in a grateful happy mood.

Retirement

Still figuring out retirement. See my loving and clear-eyed brilliant therapist Brian to help me with that. I have come to care for him in a way I have never any other therapist I’ve seen over the years. I preach around, but less now. Working on a new book, for Skinner with Kathleen and my friend Jeff Horst. Also wrote a few essays for anthologies published by Skinner House.

Wrote an essay on a painting in the Columbus Museum of Art that is coming out this week in their American Collection Catalogue.

Have a horrible time sleeping, often, but the big happy change for me is that I have become a photographer of sort, and post on social media that photography is so available now with modern iphones.

All in all, I live a pretty happy life now that I am retired and actually have time to go to all the dozens of doctor’s appointments I go to every month.

Blessings on you all when it’s your turn to do an Odyssey. It’s like nothing else I have done in my life, and it was surprisingly difficult and provoking to concentrate a long life into a short essay.

But here I am, still, and amen, finally finished.

Integrity

Rev. Sean Parker-Dennison
Preached many times

Sean says, “Here is a version of the “coming out” sermon I’ve been preaching since 1997. Almost word-for-word the same sermon and almost entirely received the same way, over 22 years later.” 

OPENING WORDS

To invoke Love
Is to ask for a hug from a thunderstorm,
spill tea in the lap of the infinite trickster,

To invoke Love
Is to never know if it will come softly, with the nuzzle of a beloved dog comforting a disappointed child,
Or pounce right on your chest with the strength of a lioness protecting her cub, her pride, her homeland.

To invoke Love
is to take the risk of inviting chaos to visit the spaces we have spent so much time making tidy,
to watch as the breath of life fills the curtains and scatters everything we have only just folded and put away.

To invoke Love
Is to allow for the possibility that our words and our actions might become so empowered that we can no longer
Believe in apathy, or take the self-righteous path of believing that we are impotent, or that nothing can change.

To invoke Love
Is to play the fool, the one more concerned with loving than with appearances or reputation, the one who is ready and willing to be vulnerable, to abandon anything that gets in Love’s way, the one who has chosen Love over fear.

To invoke Love
is to be ready to become Love. Here. Now. In everything we do.  Are you ready?

READING from To Know as We are Known: a Spirituality of Education by Parker Palmer

The goal of a knowledge arising from love is the reunification and reconstruction of broken selves and worlds.

This love is not a soft and sentimental virtue, not a fuzzy feeling of romance.

The love of which spiritual tradition speaks is a tough love, the connective tissue of reality.

The act of knowing is an act of love: the act of entertaining and embracing the reality of the other, of allowing the other to enter and embrace our own.

Here is the insight most central to spiritual experience:

we are known in detail and depth by the love that created and sustains us, known as members of a community that depends on us and on which we depend.

SHARING The Integrity of the In-Between

I remember when I was about seven years old and a new family moved into the house across the street. I could see they had a child about my age, and I was full of questions and full of hope that this new child and I would become best friends. I wanted to run across the street and bombard the new family with questions. Who are you? Where are you from? What was it like there? What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

At the same time, I was far too shy, and far too well raised to indulge that impulse. I knew I would have to wait, to let the new family settle in and reveal themselves to me and to the neighborhood at their own pace. Still, my curiosity was so strong it was almost painful. It took what seemed like ages, but eventually, the new family did come over, and their daughter, Sara, and I did become best friends.

As we begin this process of getting to know each other, Interim Minister and congregation, I’m happy to tell you that I have learned a few things since I was seven. One of them is that if I want to get to know someone, there are much better ways to do it than to mount my own personal inquisition. In fact, one of the best ways I’ve found to get to know folks is to open myself up and tell my own story.

Now for anyone, telling his or her story is a risky thing. That’s why my mother taught me to be patient and let the family across the street do it at their own pace. A person’s story is unique and telling it makes them a bit vulnerable. It took me quite a few years to risk telling my story for the first time, and even longer to tell it from the pulpit. But once I took that risk, I discovered some wonderful things.

When I allowed myself to be known, I could finally trust that what Parker Palmer said was true:

Here is the insight most central to spiritual experience: we are known in detail and depth by the love that created and sustains us…known as members of a community that depends on us, and on which we depend.

I no longer had to be alone, afraid, or isolated. That was true in a spiritual sense for me, but it was also true in a practical sense. The other wonder that happened when I began to tell my story is that others began to tell me theirs. And the depth and breadth of my community grew.

I’ve come to understand that one of the best things I can do — one of the foundational acts of ministry I can offer to other Unitarian Universalists is to tell my story. Of course, I can’t tell you the whole story — that would take hours and we’d all end up pretty hungry and cranky. But I can tell you the part that is a bit unusual, and that has taught me the most and both literally and spiritually made me who I am today:

I am transgender.

People began using the word “transgender” only a decade or two ago, mostly in private or in academic and medical settings. In that way, it is still a relatively new term and its meaning isn’t always clear — not even among those of us the word is used to describe.

In my case, it means two things: that I was born female and now am male, and that I honor that journey by being honest and claiming my experience as both a woman for thirty years and now a man for thirteen. That is not true for every transgender person. Many of my transgender friends feel that they were always one gender, and that they are changing or have changed their bodies to make them fit with the gender they have always known themselves to be. That is their journey.

My journey has been to wrestle with living with what Rita Nakashima Brock calls “interstitial integrity.” She describes this kind of integrity from her experience as a multi-racial woman. She says:

Interstitial life often feels like a process of being torn among several different worlds that refuse to get along. It can, in its transcendence, however, feel as if one is following the rhythms of a migrating bird. The bird cannot rest long in one place, but it finds nourishment and strength to fly on. This refusal to rest in one place, to reject a narrowing of who we are by either/or decisions, or to be placed always on the periphery, is interstitial integrity. Interstitial refers to the places in between, which are real places, like the strong connective tissue between organs in the body that link the parts. This interstitiality is a form of integrity…. Integrity has to do with moments of entireness, of having no part taken away or wanting. Integrity is closely related to integration, to acts of connecting many disparate things by holding them together. Integr(ity)ation is ongoing renewal and restoration, learning how to live in the tensions of holding together all the complex parts of who we are.[i]

This is the heart of what it means for you to know me and my story. My life is a journey toward the integrity and wholeness of who I am and a journey that lets me see into two worlds. I am a transgender man.

I began this story in small-town Iowa, where I was born and raised. My family was a troubled and a difficult place to be. I sometimes describe myself as a poet in a house where there were no books. Truthfully, gender was not an issue most of the time. I ignored it as much as I was able and played along when I absolutely had to. I was uncomfortable with what I experienced as the trappings of girlhood — the pink and the frills and the frustrating inaction of it — but I was sure all girls hated those things.

I spent thirty years in Iowa, trying hard to fit in. I never quite succeeded, but I did build a lot of wonderful friendships (most of them in the UU fellowship there) with people who accepted me as a rather masculine woman who was raising a young son as a single mom.

I was twenty-nine years old when I was first questioned gender. I read Leslie Feinberg’s novel Stone Butch Blues, and found myself emotionally drawn to the main character, Jess. I was captivated by the story of Jess’ choice to live in the world as a man, even though the story was incredibly painful. Even through the tragedies of Jess’ life, I couldn’t help but see the possibilities for me. For the first time, I knew it possible to change my gender.

Later that year, Feinberg’s second book, Transgender Warriors was published by Beacon Press. I asked the friend who was coming to Iowa to help my son and me move to California to start seminary to bring a copy along. We read it aloud to each other in the moving truck and during the four-day trek to Berkeley, I came to realize that the stories in the book were my story. I saw my face in the portraits Feinberg had gathered and I saw my questions, my feelings, and my struggle in the stories of other transgender people. I began to ask myself who I was, deep in the center of my being.

It was a shock to notice that deep down I felt more like a teenage boy than a grown woman. I had spent years trying on the different female identities that were open to me but none of them fit, leaving me stuck. I had tried to be a fundamentalist Christian vision of a woman; I had tried to be a good radical feminist, I had tried to be a good mother, I had tried to be a good lesbian, and I had tried to make up my own definition of “woman” and live that. But reading the stories of other transgender people made me realize that what I had always wanted to be when I grew up was a man. I was shocked and scared by the intensity of that desire.

One night shortly after we had settled into our new Berkeley apartment, I had a dream. It was a dream I’d had many times before in which I was trying to catch a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror, but no matter how I twisted and turned, I could not see my face. I would cry and struggle to stretch and contort myself into some position where I could see myself, but I always failed. But this time, in the dream, I heard a voice say, “Move the mirror.” So I reached out and grabbed the mirror and turned it completely around. There, in what should have been the useless back of the mirror I could see my face, tear-streaked and undeniably male.

That was a hard dream — hard because it called me to make a decision about my life. Was I going to stay inside the little box marked “F” for female at my birth, or was I going to live what felt true and real for me? Was I going to choose to live with integrity?

The most difficult part of that decision, aside from dealing with all the feelings it evoked in the people I loved, was the sense that I had to choose male or female. I had spent thirty years as a woman, six of them as a mother, and now I felt I was supposed to deny all of that and live as another kind of creature — a man. All or nothing. The little box marked “F” or the one marked “M.”

My life does not fit those boxes. My gender is not that simple. As hard as I have tried to choose one over the other, what is true for me is that I am both. It is more comfortable and more authentic for me to move through the world as a man. In my deepest knowing of myself, a male face, a male body, and a male identity feel true. When I think of myself or describe myself, it is as a man.

I cannot choose one side of myself over the other. To choose would be to willingly let some part of myself wither and die. To deny that I live in a body that was born female, and that I lived as a woman for thirty years would be just as painful as it was living in denial of my knowledge of myself as a man.

In the process of figuring this out I called on a lot of resources. I learned a lot about transgender history. I learned that in the past, one couldn’t get through the medical system’s scrutiny unless he or she created something called a “plausible history.” A plausible history for me would have been a story I created about my life as a little boy, a teen, and a young man. In short, it would have been a lie. But I didn’t do this to live a lie! I did this to tell the truth about who I am.

When Rita Nakashima Brock wrote of interstitial integrity, she showed me she understands something that is vital to me. She understands how it feels when the categories are too small and too unimaginative to hold her life. And she names interstitial integrity as an act of resistance — a liberatory act — in a world that seeks to confine us all to an oversimplified view of what it is to be human.

There are many reasons this society wants us to be completely quantifiable. For the marketplace and statistical analysis, it would be so much easier if we were digital — every detail of our lives reducible to a one or a zero, an “M” or an “F” — an us or a them. For us to be really good consumers of this culture, we need to be willing to make ourselves small enough to fit into the boxes on all the forms.

It is useful for people who value profits and efficiency and the bottom line to have boxes and categories in which to place us. But human beings and our lives are so much more than that. When Rita Nakashima Brock notices and lets us know that…”the places in-between… are real places” she reminds us of the beauty, the strength and the utter necessity of all that lies between the little boxes of this culture.

Interstitial integrity is the heart of my story. The muscles, sinews, ligaments, and fibers that hold us together are the strength and real substance of the body. Without them we would be piles of bones. It is an act of courage and an act of liberation to remember all of ourselves. Re-membering means being conscious of all the parts of ourselves that are too complex, too messy, too solid to be held by imaginary boxes. Reclaiming these parts of ourselves is the work of integrity, and integrity is one of the things we as individuals, and as a society, need most.

One doesn’t have to be transgender to know how it feels to be crushed into a role or a box that is uncomfortable and painful. This is the heart of every social justice movement. Women know how it feels to be defined in ways that do not hold their strength and value. Anyone whose skin is not white knows how it feels to be limited by others’ definitions of their place and power in the world. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people know how it is to be made small by prejudice and defined by only one small part of their whole being. All of us know. Even straight, white, men with healthy bodies and strong minds know the pain of being judged and limited by other people’s assumptions.

One doesn’t even have to be struggling with issues of identity to understand how it feels to be in-between. We all experience in-between times. Times when we are not sure we fit in one place or another. Times when change catches us by surprise, and we are left a little shocked and a little disoriented. These are in-between times, and they can be difficult, and yet, in-between places and times are also incredibly beautiful. They are full of possibility, and creative energy. They are places and times in which we get to make new choices about our lives. We can recreate ourselves, renewing our vision and our hope.

When I try to express the power and beauty of the in-between I am inspired by the brilliance and beauty of sunrise, and the quiet stillness of sunset. In these times between night and day, our vision adjusts, we take time to prepare for what lies ahead, and we enjoy the beauty of what is. Twilight is a real time, a beautiful time, and a necessary time. I don’t believe any of us would rather that night suddenly turned to full day, as if someone flipped a giant switch. The shock and the glare would be too much.

There is something special and needed about the in-between. When I look at the world and see evil, it is so often in the form of enforced duality. We are “us.” They are “them.” Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. White people are one way; people of color, another. When I imagine a world where justice flows down like water, I see that flood washing away the categories, and leaving us all in the messy middle, together, as human beings. In one of my favorite readings from our hymnal, Judy Chicago imagined it this way:

And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another’s will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.

May it be so. May we be the ones that make it so. Amen, Ashé, and Blessed Be.[ii]

_____________
[i] Brock, Rita Nakashima. (1998). “Interstitial Integrity,” in Introduction to Christian Theology: Contemporary North American Perspectives, ed. Roger A. Badham Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 190.

[ii] Chicago, Judy (1974-79). The Dinner Party, art installation housed at the Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation. Also, #464 in Singing the Living Tradition.

Winter 2019 Conference

2019 Winter UURMaPA Conference Report by Jaco B. ten Hove

CELEBRATING THE RAINBOW

History Made and in the Making

On February 17–20 we gathered at the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch near San Antonio, Texas—almost 60 UURMaPAns (including a few not-yet-retired special guests)—for the first of this year’s two conferences honoring the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in 1969.

Our stalwart program planning team (led by Phyllis Hubbell) arranged activities to engage us in celebratory reflection on the past five decades of UUs making Rainbow History, as we shared memories, honored departed players and recorded perspectives for posterity. The event itself unfolded in an envelope of historical power.

Our regular UURMaPA conference atmosphere (ably guided by organizer Ginger Luke) was a fruitful container for such meaningful endeavors, and we took full advantage of the many opportunities to chat and relax, not to mention eat together at this Australian-themed retreat center tucked into the deep suburban Texas countryside. There were indeed various earnest gaggles of tennis players scurrying about here and there, as we lingered in and around the Billabong Bar and Crocodile Concourse.

Opening evening worship led by Dorothy Emerson (who was coordinator of the UU Rainbow History Project until her passing in May 2019) helped us let go and be fully present, inviting us to note the variety of all our Coming Out stories and ending with a semi-circle of a dozen enthusiastic singers leading Cris Williamson’s anthem, “Song of the Soul.”

The first day was gloriously packed. Monday morning worship led by Barbara ten Hove noted our arriving “out of many singular rooms” (drawing on the familiar Kenneth Patton reading) to find solace in the names and faces of companions on the journey.

Keith Kron’s keynote cogently rehearsed the flow of people and events that shaped our UU Rainbow History, especially lifting up how much painful struggle was involved even as we patted ourselves on the back for being ahead of other groups. “The work is never done,” he reminded us. (Keith is currently Director of the UUA Transitions Office, and for 14 earlier years he directed the UUA Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns.)

Two afternoon panels shared moving accounts from perspectives of ministers and partners. Then, after dinner, Teresa Novak offered a stirring Odyssey.

The second equally full day began with a regular and potent feature of our conferences, an In Memoriam Service, led by Chris Lilly Backus & Andy Backus, who reminded us in his homily that “We write on the pages of history with indelible ink … It’s not our fingerprints we leave everywhere we go; it’s our soul prints.” Thirty-eight of our colleagues and partners who died recently were acknowledged, including Phillip Hewett, Til Evans, Rudy Gelsey, Victor Carpenter, Will Saunders, Alan Seaburg, Max Gaebler, Scotty Meek, Ray Manker and Clark Olsen.

But wait, there’s more! We then shifted into a compelling program of Remembering Our Ancestors in UU Rainbow History, with profiles of 10 key and sometimes less visible pioneers, who advanced the rights of their communities in years past: Dick Nash, Jim Stoll, Deane Starr, Kay Greenleaf, Rosemarie Carnarius, Mark Mosher DeWolfe, Bob Hadley, Bob Wheatley, Gene Navias, and Frank Robertson. UURMaPA board members read brief life summaries they had prepared (supported by diligent researcher Marni Harmony). By the end of this session there was an intensely palpable spirit in the room; it felt very meaningful. And that was all before lunch!

The afternoon featured a couple of optional workshop possibilities: Movement and Improv with Mary Kay and Dennis Hamilton; and Advocacy pointers with Craig Roshaven, both of which were well received. Concurrently, the professional videographer, who also captured all the major presentations, was filming recollections by a few small groups, including male and female allies, all well moderated by Dee Graham. (These and most of the recorded sessions will eventually be edited and added to the UU Rainbow History website — www.uurainbowhistory.net.)

That evening saw a spirited “Wide Variety Show,” emceed by Jim Eller in fine form, with sketches from the Improv workshop, songs, readings and general good humor. And throughout the days, a Timeline Team (Dorothy Emerson, Donna Clifford and Dee Graham, assisted ahead of conference by UURMaPA Historian Susan Lamar) created an inviting and interactive 50-year chronicle on three walls of the main meeting room, onto which we could add our own memories and comments. See the results online at www.uurainbowhistory.net. There was also a table of intriguing memorabilia.

The farewell morning’s worship service was led by guest Meg Riley (who’s not retired yet, serving well as senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, but who also had earlier tenure as director of the UUA’s Office of Lesbian and Gay Concerns). After a few days of sitting in rows, Meg made us gather in a circle, wouldn’t you know, and it thoroughly suited our closing mood.

Evaluations were helpfully focused on some aspects that went less smoothly (especially with the sometimes quite awkward site terrain), but overall the event was rewarding to most if not all attendees.

And the journey continues, especially on the UU Rainbow History website, and at our Fall UURMaPA Conference: October 7–10, in Litchfield, CT.

Thanks to Jaco ten Hove and Diane Miller for the photos!

 

Marion Visel’s papers

DOCUMENTS FROM REV. MARION VISEL SAME SEX WEDDINGS NEW PALTZ, NY, MARCH 2004 (Chronological Order)

1. Marian Visel papers 1 – HRC letter, “Lambda Legal Files Historic Lawsuit Seeking Full Marriage for Gay Couples in New York.” March 5, 2004. (Good outline of events that lead up to UU Ministers officiating weddings for same sex couples in New Paltz, NY later in March 2004.)

2. Sample script, Wedding Ceremony, March 6, 2004, Rev. Katherine Greenleaf and Rev. Dawn Sangrey.

3. Article “Marian Visel papers 3 – Minister Takes Debate to Heart” from The Poughkeepsie Journal, New Paltz, NY. March 7, 2004 (date?).

4. Marian Visel papers 4 – warning from Ulster County, NY, District Attorney, March 11, 2004.

5. Contact information for the organizing body for same-sex marriage in New Paltz, NY, New Paltz Equality Initiative, Charles Clement NPEqualitylnitiative @ yahoo.com 845-255-4747. Business card for Rev. Marion Visel’s pro-bono attorney (each celebrant had their own pro-bono attorney). Marian Visel papers 5 – Gioiella business card, Attorney at Law, Litman, Asche & Gioiella,LLP, 45 Broadway Atrium, New York, NY 10006 Tel. 212/809-4500, cell 917 /885-0191, RMG @ lagnyc.com

6. Marian Visel papers 6 – sample script 2004-03-13, March 13, 2004, Rev. Katherine Greenleaf, Rev. Dawn Sangrey and Rev. Marion Visel.

7. Marian Visel papers 7 – New Paltz chief of police requesting copies of contracts of marriage for wedding ceremonies performed by Rev. Marion Visel in New Paltz, NY. Hand delivered on March 13, 2004. (Rev. Marion Visel did not respond to the request.)

8. Article “Marian Visel papers 8 – Police cite Westport Minister” from Westport NOW.com,Westport, CT. March 14, 204. (I believe the article inaccurately states that I was cited following officiating at March 13 wedding ceremonies. I was warned but I don’t believe I was charged.)

9. March 15, 2004 Letter to the Editor, New York Times, in response to article “Marian Visel papers 9 – Uniforms Mix with Wedding Finery” March 14, 2004.

10. Article “Marian Visel papers 10 – Ministers Charged for Marrying NY Gays” New York Times. March 15, 2004.

11. Request for comment and interview, Marian Visel papers 11 – News 12 request, Comcast, March 15, 2004.

12. Marian Visel papers 12 – Sample of emails of thanks to Rev. Marion Visel, March 16, 2004 from couples married by me in New Paltz.

13. Marian Visel papers 13 – UUA statement from President Bill Sinkford, “UU Ministers charged after performing civil marriages.” March 17, 2004.

14. Email Marian Visel papers 14 – New 12 response couple who wish to be married at future interview from same sex couple who wish to be married at future New Paltz wedding. March 19, 2004.

15. Article “Marian Visel papers 15 – Minister vows to continue same-sex ceremonies” Norwalk Advocate (Norwalk, Cl) March 22, 2004.

16. Marian Visel papers 16 – Email of thanks to Rev. Marion Visel, March 24, 2004 from a couple married in New Paltz on March 13.

17. Letter from NY Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer.

Marian Visel papers all

Coming Out Sermons

From my own experience, preaching a “coming out” sermon during my internship at the First Church in Belmont, MA, in 1990 was significant to both my formation and my ability to be fully present as a minister in subsequent settings.  I believe that the perspectives communicated through these sermons offer a particularly powerful window to the intersection of ministry and personal identity as members of both UU and LGBTQ communities. I believe the insights and narratives conveyed through these sermons make an important contribution to deeper understanding of what it means to challenge a wide range of conspiracies of silence. – Ned Wight

Keith Kron

The Van Gogh Café – A sermon preached many times

Rev. Keith Kron

Reading

“Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two and one.

And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t.

You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today.

And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are — underneath the year that makes you eleven.

Like some days you might say something stupid and that’s the part of you that’s still ten.

Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mother’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five.

And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like you’re three, and that’s okay.

That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three.

Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next. That’s how being eleven years old is.

You don’t feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say “Eleven” when they ask you.

And you don’t feel smart eleven, not until you’re almost twelve. That’s the way it is.

Reading

“The Possum” by Cynthia Rylant

from The Van Gogh Café

Kansas is not what one would call picturesque. It is flat. So flat it could make some people a little crazy, people who need a hill now and then to keep their balance. But in Kansas at least things get noticed. The flatness makes everything count and not one thing slips by. That is why, if a possum was going to choose to hang upside down somewhere, Kansas would be a good choice. People would notice. And if the possum chose to hang outside the window of the Van Gogh Café in Flowers… well then, everyone would start talking about magic. And that would be good for the possum, too.

The Van Gogh Café is owned by a young man named Marc and his daughter, Clara. Clara is one reason for all of the magic in the café. She is ten and believes anything might happen.

Marc and Clara open up the café at six every morning except Sundays, when they sleep until ten. Clara takes breakfast orders for Marc—who is the cook—for half an hour on school mornings, then she goes to their apartment across the street to get ready for school. Clara likes taking orders because everyone is sleepy and sweet and all they want in the world is a cup of coffee, please. Clara thinks morning is the kindest time of day.

Most of the people who come to the Van Gogh Café are Flowers people and know each other: “Hi Ray.” “Hello, Roy.” But sometimes someone is new, for Flowers sits near I-70, which people take when they are escaping from an old life in the East to a new life in the West or the other way around. Clara has met many people between six and six-thirty on their way to something new.

But she has not met a possum until today. Today is Saturday and she’s working a couple extra hours for her father, and it is eight o’clock in the morning when suddenly a possum is hanging upside down in the tree outside the café window. Right on Main Street. A minute ago it wasn’t there and now it is.

Clara sees it first: Look, there’s a possum. Coffee cups go down, heads turn, and outside a little gray possum enjoys being noticed. It scratches its nose and blinks its eyes and stares back at all the faces.

No one sitting down can say hello to a possum. So everyone in the café gets up and stands in front of the window. Now, this is the magic of the Van Gogh Café: not one person says, “Amazing! A possum upside down on Main Street!” No, everyone is not all that surprised. They, like Clara, have come to believe anything might happen, because they have been having breakfast at the Van Gogh Café all their lives.

What they do say is, “Hi.” Many of them wave. Ray asks Roy what possums eat. And, with their usual curiosity about every new person in Flowers, they all say, “Wonder where he’s from?”

Well, it’s hard to know a possum’s story before he does something magical, but after he does, there’s story and more to tell.

One of the first stories is that the possum starts coming back to the Van Gogh Café every day. Eight in the morning, he’s up in the tree.

But that’s a small story.

The possum begins to attract people, and this is the bigger story because he attracts people who haven’t been getting along. Best friends who had a fight the day before: today they’re standing on the sidewalk next to the possum. The possum is hanging upside down and blinking, and the two friends are talking, and suddenly they’ve got their arms around each other and are coming into the café for some pie.

A young husband and wife: the day before they’re yelling in the front yard, the next day they’re kissing beside the possum.

Two neighbors: the day before they’re arguing about loud music, the next day the possum is watching them shake hands.

The story becomes even bigger when people start bringing food out of the Van Gogh Café, food for the possum. Half an English muffin here, two pieces of oven-fried potatoes there, a cup of milk. They can’t help themselves; they want to give it some food.

The possum isn’t hungry. But a stray dog from the other end of town is, and he starts stopping by for breakfast. So does a thin cat and two baby kittens. And a shy small mouse. Several sparrows. Even a deer.

And this goes on for a while until the biggest story happens. A story that will enter quietly into the walls of the café and become part of its magic.

For a man whose wife has died drives through Flowers, Kansas, one morning on his way to something new. He is sad. He really isn’t sure where he’s going.

But passing the Van Gogh Café, he sees the possum. He sees the possum and he sees all the hungry animals standing beneath it, eating the scraps of muffins and potatoes.

And the man sees something else there, too, something no one has seen until now. And because of what he sees, he turns his car around and drives back where he belongs, back to his farm, which he turns into a home for stray animals, animals who come to him and take away his loneliness.

Since that day the possum at the Van Gogh Café has disappeared. One minute it was there, the next minute it wasn’t.

But the customers still bring food out of the café every morning, leaving scraps beneath the tree in case anyone hungry happens by. There is always a new stray dog, a new thin cat, sparrows.

Clara is not surprised the possum has gone away. Things are always changing at the Van Gogh Café, and something new is sure to happen soon. Perhaps when the silent movie star arrives…

Sermon

The Van Gogh Café’

Not surprisingly I was unpacking children’s books at the time.

My principal, Jay Jordan, walked into my classroom and closed the door. He surveyed my room and shook his head, definitely a Keith Kron fourth grade classroom — a few books here (well, more than a few books), a few chairs there, two bulletin boards scattered all over the floor, my desk already swamped with papers. And school would not start for two days yet.

We looked at each other, and I knew I was at the OK Corral. I wasn’t sure what I was about to be shot for, but I knew something was up.

Perhaps you have seen the face and fidgeting of a nine-year-old child who lied to you twenty minutes before about having to go to the rest room and now really needed to go. My principal looked somewhat less composed than that.

He asked me if I had gotten his message from the day before about wanting to talk to him about something. I told him I had. Silence. More fidgeting. I began to have an inkling about what this conversation was going to be about.

“I am glad we’re on your turf,” Jay said. He looked at me for a minute. I nodded. Silence. Jay took a breath.

“You know Tristan Burke is no longer on your class list.” I nodded again.

“His mother made me take him out of your class.” Jay looked down and then back up. I nodded again. Tristan’s mother was president of the PTA that year. I only vaguely knew who Tristan was — and the only thing I knew about him was that he was the most effeminate boy I had encountered in five years of teaching.

“His mother made me take him out of your class because she says she knows you’re a homosexual. I don’t know how she knows it, but she knows it.” Jay looked at me. I looked at him and could see the wheels spinning in his head. I would wonder later if he could see the wheels spinning in mine.

Fortunately, and sadly, I had prepared for this moment. I had no doubts it would come at some point. Years of thinking about it had almost kept me from going into teaching, but the call to teach had won out.

I knew to say nothing. I knew to wait to be asked, then I would answer yes, and only then. I raised my eyebrows back at him. More silence. Part of me was hoping he would ask, that I would be given an opportunity to tell him, that I could finally tell my story.

He didn’t ask. He broke the silence. “This is ridiculous. You’re not the type to harm children.”

We looked at each other. I nodded quietly, realizing the support I was getting. It was a bittersweet moment for both of us. Jay finally mumbled, “I shouldn’t have pulled him out of your class.”

“She would have made your year horrible. Mine, too, for that matter.” I paused. “It’s okay.”

Jay nodded quietly back at me.

“We did reading groups today. Tristan will be in my class for reading. It’s an hour each day.” My voice trailed off.

Jay was firmer now. “You’ll get my backing. She’ll just have to deal with it. There’s another parent concerned too. I’ll deal with him too. We won’t talk about this again.” Jay surveyed my room.

“Now get this room cleaned up. I don’t know how you are going to be ready to teach in two days.” He spun on his heels and turned toward the door. He opened it and turned to me.

“I’m glad we did this on your turf,” he repeated.

He looked at me one last time, tried to smile, and left, closing the door behind him.

For the next four years, I never heard any of those complaints again. Tristan and I got along famously. I invited his mother into my reading class to help out when she could. She did, and we laughed a lot together. From me she learned the fine art of teasing children — and probably a few other things.

It occurs to me to tell you why I am here–why I do the work now as Director of the Transitions Office for our Unitarian Universalist Association, why I went into ministry — and not teaching fourth grade anymore.

I left because I was afraid.

It is more than being found out and fired because I was a known homosexual, though that’s certainly part of it. The longer I stuck around the greater the odds were that my private life would become public knowledge.

My parents, who have not used the words “gay” or “homosexual” in the twenty plus years I have been out to them, are a part of this story too. My dad was a principal in the same school system as I, and my mother taught first grade in Lexington as well. I never had the opportunity to think of fighting this battle alone, and my folks had given a lifetime of modeling to know how to overprotect people. Any public battle I chose there would have included them.

I lived four lives in Lexington, Kentucky. I lived a work life where I loved the work of teaching elementary school. I lived a family life where I had dinner with my folks once a week, visited my grandmother a lot, and overspent on my young relatives at Christmas. I lived a gay life where I hung out with friends, led a support group, and played volleyball. I lived a religious life where I sat on every committee in my home UU congregation and moved on to district and denominational work beyond that.

I even managed to begin to see some overlapping. Certainly my work life and family life overlapped some. And as I came out in church, my gay life and my religious life began to merge. I worked very hard at making my church a welcoming place for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. I worked very hard at bringing gays, lesbians, and bisexuals into my church. And it happened.

It happened in part because I started telling stories in church. I was able to tell the story about having a crush on Mr. Gardner, my high school drama teacher, and then telling him about it. I was able to tell the story of being in a very Southern Baptist church as a teenager and having my “Anita Bryant” type Sunday school teacher ask me if I agreed with her that homosexuals were sick people.

I was able to tell the story of coming out to my parents and having my father ask me if I was going to molest children while my mother cried. I was able to tell the story of meeting a Unitarian Universalist minister in a gay bar and that’s how I became a Unitarian Universalist.

I was becoming aware that not only could I be eleven and ten and nine and eight and seven and six and five and four and three and two and one, but I could talk about them as well. You see, my real fear was not that someone like my principal would ask me if I was gay, would ask me my story. My real fear is that I would never get to tell it.

This is what the radical right wants — to control our society so that only certain approved stories can be told. The work of telling your story will be critical in your search for a new minister.

I was afraid I would never get to have a life. I was afraid I would always have four of them.

My fear was not that my private life would become public knowledge. My fear was either that it never would, or it would happen only on someone else’s terms.

When I hear people say they want to make sure they have a private life and a public life, I wonder, “Do they really want two lives?” Categories for human beings are really a bad idea.

I think I learned that during my conversation with my principal.

As an aside, I do understand that people are talking about control and choice when they make the point about having a private life. I’m all for that. I just believe human beings do better when they only have one life to juggle. It’s more than enough to do.

So it was after this conversation with my principal when I began to know the need to make a change. I looked around me and became sadly aware of the number of people leading more than one life at a time.

My teaching colleague who had been married to a man with a sexual addiction for children.

My father who tried to pretend he never had a father and never talked, or talks, about him.

My friend Steve who quit playing the piano because he became a librarian.

My friend Saundra who told no one about her live-in boyfriend, Dick.

All of these people and so many more who never got to be eleven. It was hardest for me to see in the children I taught. Children who came to school and then went home and cooked and cleaned for younger brothers and sisters. Children who knew they could not fail. Children who went home to wars. And by the time they were nine years old they knew to keep these lives quiet.

Religious Educator Maria Harris talks about implicit education — what is taught without saying it. I knew I was implicitly teaching these children to have more than one life. There had to be a better way.

I looked at how I might make it a better way. I learned of cities that had nondiscrimination policies for teachers. I did not trust that those were real.

I looked at the amount of work I had to do. And I thought about the fact that I often spent more time documenting what I taught and how I taught it and who was there to hear it, than I did actually getting to teach.

So I decided to look elsewhere. The person I saw doing the most teaching was my minister and the other ministers I knew. And they didn’t have to fill out report cards either.

I remembered Jesus was a teacher in many ways. Rabbis consider themselves as teachers. I watched the UU ministers I knew and I watched the way they taught the people around them — by telling stories, often their stories.

At the same time, I was leading homophobia workshops in UU congregations — not how to have more of it, mind you, but how to have less. I learned quickly three things about teaching adults.

1) They don’t necessarily have longer attention spans than children. They just do a better job of faking. Usually engaging people on an emotional level increases their attentiveness.

2) Adult learning is as much about unlearning as it is about learning.

3) The product isn’t nearly as important as the process.

So how do you teach people to be less homophobic? You are explicitly teaching them about homophobia. You are implicitly teaching them about vulnerability.

That’s where the possum shows up. That’s where the magic happens. As people let themselves become more vulnerable, they become stronger and less homophobic. I did this through telling stories — sometimes my stories. And I was blessed with the stories of others.

I saw the possibility for having one life.

A friend of mine from seminary and I were talking one day, and she said you could learn a fair amount about a person by asking them these four questions:

1) When did you stop singing?

2) When did you stop dancing?

3) When did you stop playing?

4) When did you stop telling your story?

For the record, I stopped singing in third grade in music class when Mrs. Rice told me I couldn’t sing — though I still hum to myself when I think no one is looking.

I still go dancing.

I still play.

And as I told my friend, “It’s more a matter of when I started telling my story than when I stopped.”

I stopped telling my story at fourteen. It would be ten years later that I started telling some of my stories again. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve not had to figure out what story I could tell where.

Like the story of the possum, one story leads to another. And when we hear our story in another’s story, well, that’s the magic. That’s when we encounter mystery.

What are your stories? Have you stopped telling them? Do you only tell them in certain places, in certain lives? How well do you know the stories of those around you? The stories in this room — your stories — are magical. I hope you are not afraid to tell them. They are your life and they let you be fully eleven or whatever age you are.

A final story from the Van Gogh Café and then I will close.

It is winter at the café.

Marc is in the back cooking, though the restaurant is empty. Clara is putting napkins into the napkin holder when a man walks in. He is tall and slender and moves like water. He is strikingly handsome and a fabulous dresser. Black cloak, black cashmere scarf, black wool gloves, black cane.

His white hair sets it off perfectly. He must be 90. Clara takes his order.

“Tea, plain. Boiled egg, please. Thank you.”

Clara thinks there is something romantic about him.

After his food is served, Marc comes out looking for his watch. He looks around and sees the man. Marc stops what he is doing and stares. He is staring because he knows who this elegant man in the café is.

He is a star.

Clara doesn’t know, of course. She has watched the old movies with her father, but, except for Chaplin, doesn’t know their names. Only their movements.

And it is perhaps the way the elegant man has moved through the café that reminds her of something she has seen before. Reminds everyone. But none can quite place the memory.

The breakfast hours pass and people go their way, to work, to the mall at the edge of town, back home.

But the elegant man stays on. He has hardly touched his egg. His teacup is still half full. The door of the Van Gogh Café opens and closes, opens and closes, and he stays on looking out the window.

Marc cannot help himself. When there is no one left in the café except the silent star, Marc walks over to his table. Clara, curious, shyly follows.

Marc offers his hand and the man gracefully takes it. They shake.

“I know you work,” Mark says softly. “I love it. I love all your films.”

Clara’s eyes are wide. She has not known until know that a star is in her café. The old man blushes and smiles.

“Thank you,” he says.

There is an awkward moment, then graciously, he offers Marc and Clara the two empty chairs at his table. Happily, they sit.

Marc and the silent star talk about the old films as Clara listens. There is an innocence in her father’s face she has not seen before. He is like a boy. The silent star seems pleased, quietly thrilled, to talk of his work with someone who understands so well — to finally tell his story. He laughs and sighs and even trembles slightly, reliving it all.

There is a moment or two when each is quiet, catching a breath.

“Why, sir, are you at the Van Gogh Café?” Marc gently asks. Clara waits.

The old man seems glad someone has asked. He reaches into his coat and pulls forth an old photograph. He hands it first to Clara, then to Marc.

It is of a beautiful young man in a waistcoat and top hat, standing before an old theater. Marc looks carefully at the building in the picture.

“Is this…?”

“Yes,” replies the silent star.

The building is the Van Gogh Café. In 1923. When it was a theater.

“He and I did some shows here together, the summer we met.” The silent star smiles and puts the photograph back inside his coat.

“Today I am waiting for him,” he says.

Clara’s heart is pounding. She feels that she herself is in a movie. Every gesture the man makes, each word he speaks is so beautiful to her. She knows the café remembers this man. She can feel it drawing in to him, reaching for this man who has been a part of its first magic, on the stage of the old theater.

Oddly, not one person has walked into the café to break this spell.

Marc offers the star a fresh cup of tea and a piece of apple pie, which is gratefully accepted. Then Marc and Clara leave the old man to his waiting.

The lunch hours come and go. Then the dinner hours. The silent star waits. Occasionally Clara or Marc offer him something, but he politely declines. And they find themselves watching the window, watching the door, for a beautiful young man in a top hat and waistcoat

Finally, it is time to close and still the old man is waiting. He seems very tired now. But unworried. He asks Marc if he might sit by the window a little longer

“Of course,” says Marc, though he offers his guest room to the man, offers to take him home for the evening and return him to the table by the window the next day.

But the man is certain his friend is coming very soon.

“Very soon,” he says.

So Marc takes Clara home and returns to the café a few hours later, to check on the old man.

At first Marc thinks the man is asleep. Then Marc realizes that he has died. In the old man’s hand, Marc finds a newspaper clipping, cracked and yellow. The clipping shows the face of the beautiful young man in top hat and waistcoat. It reports that he has drowned, in 1926.

And in the old man’s other hand is the same photograph that Marc and Clara were shown. But now the photograph is changed. The beautiful young man is gone, and there is only a soft empty light where he was standing.

Marc and Clara keep the photograph and the newspaper clipping inside a small box near the cash register, and on Christmas Eve when everything is quiet, they look at these again. They each think how perfect that the silent star has died where he found his true love. That he came to the Van Gogh Café and waited for his friend to take him home.

Whatever forces are against you, whatever pain and suffering is yours, whatever joy you have, whatever your story is, my wish for you is that you share your story whenever and wherever you choose — whether you are 11 or 90 or somewhere in between.

Sing. Dance. Play. Tell your stories. Listen to the stories of others. Live your one life. Feel. Feel its magic.

Worship Singing

Rainbow History Flows On

Fall UURMaPA Conference Report — October 7-10, 2019

Wisdom House Retreat Center in Litchfield, CT

By Jaco ten Hove

“Wisdom Has Built Herself a House,” read the house banner that stood behind all the stirring presentations at this historical event—a convocation of 55 attendees buoyed even more by 20 additional folks for the main day of programming.  Opportunities abounded to share stories and connect in both ongoing and new relationships of meaning, as was true at our previous gathering near San Antonio, TX, in February—the first of this two-part series honoring the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Uprising through a UU lens.

(more…)

Rev Rhett Baird at UUC Atlanta

A Personal Proclamation

by Rev. Rhett D. Baird

© March 24, 2002, Rev. Rhett D. Baird

“The UU Rainbow History Project has my permission to post my remarks on their web site and submit them to the Andover-Harvard Theological Library Archives.” — Rhett Baird (Link to original page)

Based upon my experience, my well considered deliberations, and the values which shape my life, I have come to believe that the state of Arkansas has no right to withhold the legal protections of the status of marriage to persons because of their gender.

I have come to believe that the state of Arkansas has no right to say that a love that exists between two adults has no standing in law because the gender of one of the persons is not pleasing to the state.

I have come to believe that love does not come into being nor thrive and grow and sustain the lives of people to please the state.

The state, I believe was created and exists to serve the people — all of the people — and to promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — of all its citizens.

Therefore, effective July 1, 2002, I will impose a one year moratorium on my acting as an agent on behalf of the state. During that period, I will honorably and joyfully create and officiate at religious ceremonies that honor and celebrate the love between two people, but I will not sign marriage certificates legalizing a bond that is not accessible to all persons, without regard to gender. Couples eligible for such legal sanction may choose to seek out the nearest civil office to do the duty of the state.

During this self-imposed moratorium and protest against what I have come to believe are unjust laws in this state on this subject, I shall function only in my ecclesiastical role as an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist tradition and shall respectfully refrain from acting as an agent of the state.

This is a thoughtfully considered private act of conscience, a symbolic gesture of values held that must be lived out, and is not intended to represent any other person or group other than my authentic self.

The Reverend Just Says No, from Fayetteville Free Weekly

Intersectionality and More Changes

Keynote Address given by Meg Riley
UURMaPA Fall Conference, 2019

Note that this is not a word-for-word transcription of Meg’s address.  We recommend watching the video in addition to reading this document.

I want to start with gratitude to UURMaPA for doing this, for caring about this history; to all of the people who went before me, who made my life possible; and for the people who are coming after, who are leading places I can’t even imagine.  So I’m just highly aware of gratitude.

I’m also really aware that today is the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder, and the Supreme Court is hearing a case that has profound implications for all of this work; we can’t begin to imagine what this new court might do.  We can’t imagine, yet we’ve been there, so I have been incredibly lucky to get to do the work that I’ve done and live the life that I’ve lived and I want to share a little bit about it.  I’ll be naming a lot of other people, and it’s not to name drop.  I want to be clear.  It’s that this work is done by so many people, including when I look out into this room — so many of you could be up here giving a talk.  And I hope if I don’t name you or if I do, that what I say will remind you of stories that you want to put into the history.

Because I want to say that on this issue, we have changed history.  On so many issues we’re involved with, we’re not the dog, we’re the tail; but on this one, without us, I am convinced history would be different for the entire nation.  And we don’t tell our stories.  I was looking at Wikipedia; we didn’t even go to Wikipedia and insert what we’ve done, much less write books about it.  So I’m really excited that UURMaPA is filming and writing, and that this material is being gathered.

As Phyllis said, we are the keepers of the memories and I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to lose my own, much less the ones I haven’t heard yet.  So anyway, after Jay Deacon was in the office, Scott Alexander was there for a couple of years; I tend to follow him.  (He moved on to CLF, it’s a path.)  But while Scott was there, he created with Bobby Harro the Welcoming Congregation curriculum so that I arrived just in time to have that curriculum already.  And when I came in, it was the Office of Lesbian and Gay concerns.  We added “bisexual” while I was there; Keith added “transgender,” though I hired Barb Greve who had a lot to do with that.

But anyway, history is always shifting and it continues to.  I went from the Youth Office, where I’d been the Youth Programs Director at the UUA.  And partly I went because it was a half time job and I wanted a half time job, because community ministry had just been invented and I had finished seminary years before, but I didn’t want to be a parish minister.  But when community ministry came, I said, “That’s what I am.  What is it?”

I knew that I wanted to finally get ordained, so I needed to do a CPE and some other things.  So I was half time doing the GLBT Office or, at the time, the LG Office.  (It had changed from “Affairs” to “Concerns” because people were concerned about affairs.)

The other half of the time, I was an intern at Church of the United Community in Roxbury, Massachusetts, which was a Black Liberation theology congregation that Graylan and Betty Ellis Hagler had started.  By the time I got there, Graylan was the solo minister there.  It was quite an awakening for me about all kinds of things, particularly my whiteness and racism, and AIDS was there hugely in that community.  And so was homophobia there quite a bit.

So I was in these worlds and I also, at the UUA, had gotten involved with the racial and cultural diversity work that Mel Hoover was doing with about 15 different job titles.  And so for me, always this “intersectionality” word, which we didn’t have yet, was just how I lived into this work and how it made sense to me.

I want to say that I went to the Youth Office from Minnesota where there were no gay or lesbian ministers that I ever knew about, except there was Lucy Hitchcock in North Dakota who I heard about far away.  (It’s so good to see you here!)  But while I was there and after I’d applied and been accepted, but hadn’t moved yet, Arlington Street Church called Kim Crawford Harvie to that historic pulpit and it reverberated across the nation.  I remember when Susan Milnor said to Terry Sweetser, “Oh my God, did you hear this?”  It was huge news, because at that time, most GLBT folks, if they got placed at all, were placed through the Extension Department.  They were not called.  So a shout-out to Chuck Gaines, who really did a lot of work to make that happen.

When I went to the Gay Lesbian Office, the first thing that I did — coming out of Religious Education, the way that we worked on curriculum then was to get people from every district to come to agree to be trainers of that curriculum back home — was to put together a training for everybody to come together — in a Catholic retreat center, of course — near Boston.  And I made sure that all of the teams leading that were racially mixed, gender mixed, sexual orientation mixed.

Of course the reps from each district were not so mixed.  The trainers of trainers were racially diverse, but it was all white trainers who came in.  But at least the training held, again, those elements of  intersectionality.

So Jacqui James, who was then doing Beyond Categorical Thinking, asked me to start helping her lead those trainings.  I know that people like Tony Larsen had been out in congregations talking about hiring Gay and Lesbian ministers, and people like Mark Belletini were serving congregations.  And so this was going on, but I was starting to meet with congregations to consider would they possibly think of hiring somebody who was queer.  What that curriculum did, which was smart, was to say, “What are your concerns?  Okay, what do you think other people might be concerned about?”  And there’s where the whole list would come, right?  “Me, I’ve got no concerns, but other people…”  We would just generate those lists about all kinds of issues:  ability, race, gender.  At the time, women was still kind of a thing, unbelievably enough.

So when I got to Boston, Gene Navias was my boss… finally openly gay.  And when we did the training for the Welcoming Congregation, the leaders met to tell their stories.  And I still remember his story.  He drew a picture of all of the therapy that he’d been to and all of the therapists who had told him how he could not be gay.  And the one that I remember most is “Marry an ugly woman.  She’ll be grateful.”  I was so glad he got to tell his story and be listened to.

I took the office kind of thinking that the radical part of my life would be Roxbury and this would be kind of more curriculum stuff that I came to do.  But immediately I started getting these calls from the field that were just way over my head.  A health teacher in Kansas was fired for mentioning safe sex, about AIDS.  She was fired from her job.  And right then in Oregon, Ballot Measure 9 and in Colorado Amendment 2 were on the horizon.  Ballot Measure 9 was this horrific, very extreme measure; it talked about homosexuality, bestiality.  It was to put that language into the State Constitution, this super hateful amendment. Amendment 2 in Colorado was kind of Homophobia Light, just no rights, but it didn’t really trash people.  So I started getting these calls about them, and I heard that First Church Portland had put a big red ribbon around themselves and declared themselves a Hate Free Zone.  Marilyn Sewell said that it was the GLBT youth who met in the church who suggested that to her.  She was a brand new minister.  And she said, of course.

And I didn’t know what to say to anybody.  I just was like, “Whoa, this is awful.”  I remember a woman named Peggy McComb just calling me sobbing saying, “We’re under assault.  What are you going to do?”  And I said, “Cry with you.”  I mean, I just had no idea how to help.  Ballot Measure 9 failed, barely, in Oregon.  Amendment 2 passed in Colorado.  And in Oregon it failed by, like, 1%, despite the fact that everyone of both political parties, anybody with any kind of power, said “This is a bad idea.”  It still got 49% of the vote, almost.

Right after the election, I went to the NGLTF, the National Gay Lesbian Task Force. They have an annual meeting called Creating Change.  So I went to that because they had spoken out about the Iraq war.  Frankly, I found a lot of gay politics very white, middle-class-centered in a way that left me very bored.  And when NGLTF spoke out about the Iraq war, they were trashed.  “What does that have to do with us? How dare you?”

But I was like, “Maybe I’m interested in you.  Who are you?”  And so the woman who was then the director, Urvashi Vaid, had come to Boston and convened religious people because she had realized “religion seems to be a thing here.  I don’t know what to do about it.”  I remember Jay, I saw you there; just a few of us went to talk to her about religion.

So I went to NGLTF and first of all, Urvashi Vaid read a letter that began this way, “Dear NGLTF Creating Change Conference:  Hilary and I…,” and it was from Bill Clinton, and we wept because we had just lived through George Bush, who never talked about AIDS, or acknowledged gay people, as people around us were dying.  He never would mention it.  And Clinton, if you’ll recall, ran on a very pro-gay platform, which didn’t go so well for him when he got into office, but he at least had intentions of things like gays in the military and other things that weren’t very well executed.

So I remember just thinking, “Oh my gosh, it’s a new day here.”  And I learned about this thing called the Religious Right, which I’d never heard of.  I grew up UU; I certainly grew up with what I learned in seminary to call Christofascism, but it was all individual, “You’re going to hell” kind of.  It wasn’t organized politically at all.

I had two main teachers, Suzanne Pharr and Scott Nakagawa, who had just come from Oregon working on Ballot Measure 9.  They’d worked with a group that they’d created with the American Friends Service Committee called People of Faith Against Bigotry, that the UUs were very, very active in.  And Suzanne’s line, which became my mantra and remains one, is “Sexism, racism and homophobia:  unite the right and divide the left.”

So at this conference I kind of felt like a right wing infiltrator because I just kind of looked like I looked. In gay circles, I’m kind of the church lady and in church circles, I’m the radical sometimes.  It’s an interesting life.  So I was kind of uncomfortable with some of the radical language and the people who were there.  I didn’t know what to do with the whole thing.  And I met this other guy who looked kind of ill at ease in this polyester suit and it turned out to be Mel White, who is the televangelist who came out and who had written Jerry Falwell’s autobiography.  I met amazing people there.  It’s where I met Elias Farajaje who later became Ibrahim Farajaje, and I left there with relationships to really take me into the next steps.

We watched a movie there called “The Gay Agenda,” which it turned out had been distributed in churches around Oregon and Colorado.  (How many of you saw it?  I know some of you did, because I made you watch it over the years.)  It was this horrible screed showing leather floats in Pride Parades and saying “This is what all gay people want to do to your children.”  And it was just this hateful, hateful thing.  It was being used to terrorize church people, like “Jesus isn’t going to come to the world if these people do that; you need to change it.”

So I watched that film and I met these people and I got really excited about what the UUA could do.  On the plane on the way home, I’d never done it before, but I called Bill Schulz and I said, “When I come back, I need to meet with the Leadership Council.  There’s something going on that the UUA needs to address.”  And I think he was so stunned that he said, “Come next week.”  So I did.  I showed the movie and I said “This is what’s going on in the world.  This is the kind of assault that’s on my people, and we’re the people to stop this.”

That year I’d finished at The Church of the United Community.  I spent my extra time, at Political Research Associates, which was a think tank about the right wing.  So I went in and I read their whole library about gay stuff because I just felt like the logic was so circular.  Like “We hate them because they’re gay.  It’s because they’re gay that we hate them.”  And I was like, “What’s underneath this?”  And so I read and read and read.  I read a book called Dare to Discipline by a guy named James Dobson, who is a child psychologist who ended up founding Focus on the Family.  And this is the paragraph where the religious educator in me just woke up.  He said, “If little Johnny disobeys, give him a timeout.  But if little Johnny defies your authority, you must hurt little Johnny, hurt him, hurt him badly, and then comfort him.  Because if little Johnny is not afraid of you, little Johnny will never know God.”

What?  What a sadomasochistic version of God, right?  And in the original version, which got taken out later, he describes his mother’s abuse of him.  And I just thought, “Oh my God, this is a deeply twisted theology that goes against everything of Universalism.”  Once I saw that, it just crystallized for me that spiritually, we were the right people to be responding to this.  Plus, as I started going out and about, there were groups like Dignity and Integrity; everybody had their groups, but nobody but us had a denominational position like we had.  Part of the reason that the connections I made at Creating Change lasted, is that people could find me and call me.  I had an office, and other people were just doing this in their spare time on top of other jobs.  Or if they were Protestant clergy, they had to be completely closeted.

And — probably you have experienced this, too — so many talented Presbyterians, Methodists and other people over the years have come to me distraught about “If I’m found out, I’ll be fired.”  And some of them have come our way after trials and other things and some of the Methodists are still struggling with it.  The struggle has at least gotten very visible and out front.

But anyway, because I was kind of the only religious person around who could legit call myself Rev. by now and put on a collar, I started getting asked by all these people from the People for the American Way and the ACLU and other groups to come and stand next to them and speak about how this was not actually a religious thing.  This was a political thing going on.  And the image that I used was that it was like buying a plywood table with a veneer of maple on top, that the veneer was Christianity, but that the substance of it was pure politics and… that’s a different talk.  So I was kind of Typhoid Mary at parties around that time, because at that time I still thought we could stop this scourge from happening.  And I couldn’t talk about much else because I urgently wanted to stop it.  I’ve since changed my mind about being able to stop it.  But things go in all kinds of directions.

I wanted to mention that in 1993 there was another March on Washington.  Again, thousands of Unitarian Universalists came; All Souls church was packed.  There were literally people at the windows trying to just look in.  Kim Crawford Harvie preached, it was great music; it was an amazing service.  And the UUA Board all suspended their business in Boston and came to the march.  When it was announced that they were there, they got a standing ovation, and I just watched it go through their bodies like, “This really matters to people.”  I just watched them, because applause went on, it went on and they just, their bodies shifted like “Us doing this, it’s a big deal.  It’s a really big deal.”

So that was just a wonderful moment.  Natalie Gulbrandsen was the Moderator.  She wore this powder blue suit.  She said, “I always wear a suit to demonstrations to show respect.”  She had white hair and white sneakers and this powder blue suit.  Deb Weiner, who was then in the Office of Information, had made these sashes.  I don’t know why.  So we all kind of looked like suffragettes; we had these sashes that said GLBT Equality, with these little flags we were holding.  And the march itself, as I recall…  I don’t remember that we ever actually started marching.  It was one of those things where you just stood around and waited to march for hours.  But as we stood around, so many people came by and thanked us for being there and said, “Oh, the Unitarians!  If I ever went to church…”

And it was a big deal because I have to say — and all of the older queer people in the room will know this — religious was really not a good thing to be.  I mean, religion really was the enemy.  I remember I got invited to all kinds of places that were way over my head, including drafting the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which I know nothing about… drafting a bill.  But at the time when they were trying to pass that federally (which still hasn’t passed), I was the religious person in the room and the Catholics had said, if you give us a complete religious exemption from it, we won’t oppose it.  And the gay people in the room were furious at me, “the man,” representing the Catholic church, “That’s horrible.”  And I said, “I know it’s horrible.”  “Well how can you do that?”

Church was God, was evil, was mean and was oppressive.  So it was being willing, in a way, to be in spaces in ways that were uncomfortable for sure.  But also I think a lot of people, after they got through the anger, would be like, “I left my church because it was so horrible.  But I’m really spiritual…”, and now I look at the leadership of all kinds in our movement and I see how much longing there was.

There were some amazing allies that I met.  I wanted to mention Jimmy Creech, a straight Methodist guy who got kicked out for supporting gay people, but wouldn’t stop.  In 1993, we also had GA in Charlotte; it’s the infamous Jefferson Ball year.  But less famous, any time we were meeting in a state where sodomy was against the law, we had responses to it.  So we had Mandy Carter, who lived in North Carolina, and Elias/Ibrahim Farajaje came down from DC, and we had a big rally about that; it was really strong.  That’s where I met Jimmy Creech.  And whenever you went out into this world, you just met such amazing people, that to me was what kept me going.

So I convinced Bill Schultz that I needed to be in DC a lot more than I was, and that the job should be full time.  So he let me start traveling every week.  I wanted to move, but he said “Do what the Senators do, travel back and forth.”  So I did.

I had met Deanna Duby at the training for Welcoming Congregation, she was a UU-lay person that worked at People for the American Way.  I often stayed with her and her partner, Carol Bruce.  And because she worked at People for the American Way, she got me into all these places, she opened the door for me at a whole lot of places.  They had monthly meetings about the Religious Right where people from all the impacted groups met together.  There were so many of them — teachers, retired people, all these different groups of people who were impacted.  So I started getting involved in issues about which some of the white gay men kept saying, “What does that have to do with gay stuff?”  And so at one point I had a sign on my door:  “THIS IS NOT THE OFFICE OF GAY WHITE MEN CONCERNS.”  I was just really mad about it because, “Child care, what does that have to do with gay rights?”

Anyway, in 1994 there were all these ballot initiatives spawned by what happened in Oregon and Colorado.  That’s what’s usually happening with these, they are get-out-the-vote initiatives is what they are. And so in 1994, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Maine, all had these ballot initiatives. (Washington actually didn’t, but they thought they would.)  So I went out to meet with the PNWD ministers and I told them about what was going on.  I remember Peter Raible said, “The UUA doesn’t care what we do.  I learned this years ago.  They don’t really care if we want to do something, we need to do it now.  Let’s raise money.  I’ll raise a thousand dollars myself.  We need to hire organizers here.”

And by the time that meeting ended, they’d committed to raising $7,500, so they could hire part time organizers in those three states (two of whom ended up becoming ministers.)  So then I was working with those folks.  They had hate-free Sundays; they had red ribbons around all the churches in those areas, the UU churches and anyone else who would do it, which was mostly the UU churches.  But I’ll tell you, I remember driving through rural Oregon and coming into Corvallis and seeing this big red ribbon around the church and it felt so good!  It just felt like a sanctuary, that public declaration.  And so people were doing work in the churches around this, getting out into the community.  A lot of people, wherever they were, were supporting interfaith coalitions to start organizing.

I remember John Weston was in Kansas City at the time and he told me, “UUs shouldn’t be visible in this because it is Christian language being used.  It needed to be Christians saying ‘that’s not Christianity,’ right?”  He said, “I’m the secretary.  I stay away in the back,” but he was clearly the moving force in his local organization fighting the Christian Right, and he was often supporting UCC folks, who ended up speaking up a lot.  It needed to be Christians saying, “That’s not Christianity you’re talking about.”  I mean, if you look, they never, ever mention Jesus ever, the Religious Right, ever.

So in 1994, the Interfaith Alliance started and Denny Davidoff, our Moderator, got on it and they were iffy on gay stuff.  They didn’t want to take it on because it was controversial.  I went to a meeting in DC in 1993 after the votes in Oregon and Colorado.  And I remember the strategy of the gay groups was to get 51% of the vote, to vote it down, right?  So what do you do?  You go to the cities, you ignore the rural areas completely.  You pay attention to the people who are your likely voters statistically.  And I understand that that’s what electoral politics is.  I remember that’s where I met Donna Redwing, who had been an organizer in Portland, and she said that the rural communities are so divided and there’s no healing going on there; we won the vote, but what was broken is still so broken there.  And I remember just bonding with her because we both said, “We don’t just want 51%, we really want to bring everybody into this.”  And that’s what it felt like to me to be a person of faith doing this work, as opposed to a political organizer trying to get 51% of the vote (though I have no problem with 51% of the vote, don’t get me wrong, those people have to do that.)  But I think we’re doing something different.  We are paying attention to people, not just to numbers.

So (kind of like Phyllis ended up in charge of this), because I said on the Creating Change evaluation that there really needs to be more focus on religion, since religion is who is organizing against the gay community, the next year I was in charge of a day- long Religion Institute at the Creating Change conference.  It was a bunch of different panels of people that I’d met, and one of them was on “Homophobia in the Black Church.”  I invited people who spoke; I think Ibrahim facilitated that one, but it was a really good conversation.

That was especially important because after that “Gay Agenda” movie kind of spent, its…  I was going to say wad, but that might not be the right word… they had a new movie called “Gay Rights, Special Rights.”  It was made by white groups with money, but it featured Black clergy differentiating civil rights for Blacks from civil rights for gays.  And it was all about how “This is intrinsic, that is not intrinsic.  These people deserve rights, these people don’t deserve rights.  This is a real right, this is a special right.”  That was the new jargon being used.  So it’s especially important to be organizing in that fracture.  There’s a guy named Tim McDonald who was a Baptist minister down in Georgia who did a whole lot of great organizing.

I helped to start a new organization called Equal Partners in Faith, which was specifically to link homophobia, racism, sexism, all of it.  We hired Mandy Carter as our organizer, and we got national media when the Promise Keepers came to town in 1997 with their Million Man March.  Nobody would speak up about it because that would look anti-religious, because their talking point number one was, “We are not a political organization; we’re religious.”  So if that’s the number one talking point, it’s really hard to say anything… except they were a political organization, and especially an anti-gay one.  They were conversion kind of people.

So I ended up putting on my collar and doing all this national media, which I was really unprepared for because they had this huge media machine and you know media, they always want another voice.  So I was on all these shows and it went pretty well, considering…  We had a media consultant who was trying to help me, but it was a weird time.  I had just adopted a kid and I’m riding limousines around and it was just odd. We were like a water skier on the back of their yacht, riding their publicity machine.

But anyway, Equal Partners was housed at the UUA Washington office.  By then I had moved over (actually quite a while ago) to being the Washington Office Director, but still holding this portfolio.  Keith was in the GLBT office and he was really focusing on working with congregations, which is his deep love, as you know.  So we were doing complimentary work.

I was doing the Washington office in kind of a grassrootsy way, less legislation because that wasn’t what I was good at.  And Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which passed in 1997.  And that was a really interesting time because the Democrats, two to one, voted for the Defense of Marriage Act.  I mean, Defense of Marriage was not a mainstream issue at all.  In fact, when we went to meetings on it, the only people in the room were the ACLU, People for the American Way, occasionally an MCC minister, and me.

I mean nobody cared.  Did you hear me name that gay rights groups in the room?  They weren’t in the room.  They were actually, “Let’s just leave marriage over there.  It’s too radical.  We don’t want to talk about it.”  In fact, Hilary Goodridge can tell you, they got called to Washington and chewed out for doing marriage equality by the Human Rights Campaign, whose name I will name as somebody who is my nemesis sometimes.

***********Break**********

During the break, Diane Miller said that she and Debra Pope-Lance were talking and saying, in a church this felt like it was kind of the edge of a little bit of something, but it was never this kind of ongoing center, the way it was in my life, from the position I was in.  How good it is to hear that all those little bits of something add up to something so big.  And the image that I had is when there’s a cake, and you just cut off a sliver, and then you cut off another sliver and then you cut… those little slivers add up, and pretty soon you had a piece of cake, right?  I mean that even though it was a lot of little bits, it really was a compelling whole.

So I want to talk about marriage equality, and I think there could be a whole book about Unitarian Universalists in the struggle for marriage equality.  It says on the timeline that Ernie Pipes and Harry Schofield started doing ceremonies for same sex couples, same gender couples, back in the fifties.  I asked on “The Book of Face” to see if anybody had more stories than that.  (And instead we had kind of an argument about whether this picture was Harry Schofield or not, but that’s social media.)  But I didn’t get any new stories.  But if you have them, my question was really, who was the first person you knew who was doing this?  And a lot of it was going on for a long time.

In 1984, we see on the timeline that the General Assembly passed a resolution supporting ministers who did this.  That was 1984.  Those are the times that you just heard about from Jay when the Bangor paper was saying “he deserved to be murdered.” I think we’re coming out on an edge.  A lot connected individual freedom and our commitment to individuals.  And so I really wondered when it turned to marriage, which is really about something systemic, how that would go, because the Welcoming Congregation was really prejudice reduction, right?  It was about including people in your bylaws and things like that, but it really wasn’t about systemic oppression.

And people have asked me for years, or did back then a lot, why don’t we do racism the way we do the Welcoming Congregation?  Because racism is a collective experience, and to individualize takes away the power of the systems that uphold it.  So I really wondered when we turned from individual prejudice reduction to challenging an institution like marriage, how it would go.

And what I saw, and I saw this in the work around the Religious Right too, is that all these things were happening.  I was mostly going to communities where something had just happened, because before it happened, people were in denial.  And then when the Library Board was taken over or the School Board was taken over by the Religious Right, or suddenly there could be no more art in your community, and people would go, “What’s going on?”  And then they’d invite me and somebody to come and talk about it.

So it was hard to believe.  You don’t want to believe, you sound paranoid when you say this stuff.  So what I saw was that congregations that had done the work of the Welcoming Congregation or Beyond Categorical Thinking or some of the other thinking about homophobia were not immobilized the way that people were who hadn’t done that work.  The people who hadn’t done that work couldn’t even have conversations in their church really that worked.  But the people who had done the Welcoming Congregation were much better prepared to be out in the community speaking and doing that work.  And so I just want to say that all of this work builds on the work that went before. Because it’s all relational.  Mark Morrison Reed’s books document how relational justice work is, and we’re challenged by the people that we know and whom we love.

So DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, came in response to a court case in Hawaii, that said there was no compelling reason to not let same sex couples marry.  All of these cases were, by the way, based on sex discrimination.  There had been a civil unions bill in Vermont, or it was coming along.  Who’s from Vermont here?  I just want to say, the UUA didn’t support you, didn’t particularly help you at all.  I’m really aware of that.  We didn’t know what to do.  And you were out there in your local communities working hard.  I know.  And asking for help.  (The District helped?  Good.  I’m glad to hear that.)  I look back and I didn’t have a clue what to do.  It was like, “Oh, Vermont, we can’t all live there.”

Anyway, so when DOMA came along, which was 1997, I remember the press conference outside the Supreme Court, by the Senate office building where it had just passed and Clinton signed it into law.  And it was really awkward for the interfaith partners who were opposed to it.  I remember Eleanor Giddings Ivory, whom I loved, who was the Presbyterian Washington office head.  Well, the Presbyterians didn’t support services of union.  They didn’t let gay people be ministers.  So she was saying “DOMA is terrible,” but she didn’t really have grounding in this.  Because to say the government shouldn’t do it, but we should be allowed to do it…  So we were the only ones there — the Reformed Jews, the UCC and the UUA — who could categorically say, “No.  It’s wrong.”

But even so, nobody really wanted to organize around it.  I mean, of the Democrats voting, 65 voted against it, 118 voted for it.  And Clinton always said that he signed it — later, making up new history — because if he hadn’t, there was a threat of a federal amendment.  No, there wasn’t.  There was no threat of a federal amendment.  That was the climate we were all in.  I mean, I remember my beloved Paul Wellstone being anti- marriage equality.  It just was the climate of the day.

So a couple of things happened.  One, Evan Wolfson, who did the case in Hawaii, has been devoted to marriage equality ever since.  Many of you have probably met him in various organizations that he’s worked in; he’s really the patron saint of marriage equality, I think.

Beacon Press started working on a book by EJ Graff called, What is Marriage For? EJ Graff is a friend of Hillary Goodrich.  Hillary read the manuscript before it was published, she started to read it as it was being written, and said, “Huh, this seems kind of important actually.”  So Hillary and Julie Goodridge started this court case in 2001 about marriage equality.  As I said, HRC called them to Washington and said, “Stop, that’s too radical.  We need to get the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.  Don’t touch that.”  Luckily they did not listen.  And so the Supreme Court in November of 2003, the Judicial Supreme Court of Massachusetts, affirmed it.  And the Congress, “the Concon,” (which, coming out of the Youth Office, I thought was funny, but that’s what they call it in Massachusetts), started meeting to try to make a constitutional amendment to void what the court had done.

And the UUA, which was right next to the State House, hung a huge banner right down over.  First it said “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right.”  So whenever there were demonstrations there would be this banner just hanging there.  And I want to shout out to John Hurley and Keith Kron who had that idea.  My only thing was that they said, “But there’s no money.”  I said, “There’s money!” and got it.  So that’s my only contribution.

So there’s this banner hanging there proclaiming the value of marriage equality.  And so, the Beacon Hill Historic Society is not a fan of this banner.  So the UUA starts getting complaints and they’re pleading religious freedom and they’re these arguments going on.  And Michael Herron, who’s the Facilities Manager at the UUA (I love this so much) says, “Well, we’d like take it down, but the person who can do that is on vacation.”  And the person came off vacation right after the Concon was done meeting.

And somehow in the midst of that, the banner changed from “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right,” because that language turned out not to work, to “Freedom to Marry,” but I don’t know how that happened.  So anyway, the UUA location was really deployed in a wonderful way.  And in fact, the Democrats started meeting in the UUA chapel because they were being harassed over in their own building.  So they were meeting in the chapel.  And in May, 2004, Hilary and Julie were married at the UUA, the day after some other folks were married at midnight at City Hall and places.

But the Goodridge wedding was the one that all the media came to.  It was, and still to this day, it’s the B roll footage you see about marriage equality, of them coming out of 25 in their white Armani suits. John Gibbons had fired a confetti gun, so there’s confetti everywhere.  (And that was the beginning of his confetti gun obsession.)  I couldn’t be there.  It broke my heart because there was an event at the same time in Washington DC, long-planned before we knew the dates, because right until literally the Friday before the wedding, it was in debate whether the weddings were going to be able to happen.  I mean, it was being challenged right up to the minute.

And so we were in Washington, DC having a media training with Fred Garcia about how to lobby, and it didn’t hurt us at all that the front page of “The Washington Post,” the day that we were all going on the Hill, had a picture of Hillary and Julie Goodridge coming out of the UUA and the confetti flying.  The “Post” had a little free throwaway paper that they just gave out at the subway, and everybody could take those to their senators.  And I’ll tell you, Senators who usually sent out their aides, they met with us that day.

I know Ginger, I remember you were there.  Anybody else in the room there that weekend?  It was pretty exciting.  Though I was heartbroken to not be at the wedding.

Actually, the UUA chapel was not big and it was really crowded.  Is anyone here who was at the wedding?  It was packed.  And I guess they did an interview in Bill Sinkford’s office afterwards that Hilary told me she still hasn’t seen to this day.

So as you might guess, that spawned a whole bunch of 2004 anti-gay, get-out-the-vote initiatives. 2004, 2006, 2008.  Every two years, gay marriage was a threat.  And eventually thirty states passed anti-marriage amendments, most prominently 2008 with California Prop 8.   I just want to really shout out to Lindi Ramsden, because at the time religion was so marginalized by the gay community that she was heading up, not just the UU response, but the whole religious response in the State of California.   It’s a big place.   It’s not Rhode Island I’m talking about.

And it was called, what was it called?  “Standing on the Side of Love,” which was a song which we’d used in DC.  And Jason Shelton had written the song about marriage equality, after a conversation with Bill Sinkford and John Hurley, but California took that as the whole state religious thing.  But they didn’t get money much.  I mean, they had very few resources.  I think Lindi did really heroic organizing.

And I need to say, there are many failures that I feel bad about in life.  But one of the epic fails I think is that when we launched Standing on the Side of Love in 2009, we were focused on immigration and we were working with the Mormons because we could agree with them on immigration.  And in DC, no permanent friends, no permanent enemies.  You work with who you can work with.

But Standing on the Side of Love with the Mormons who were way behind the passage of Prop 8, we had a shared event about immigration and we never mentioned that we disagreed with the Mormons on marriage equality.  I mean I didn’t speak but I didn’t fight for it to be in there.  And the people from California were devastated.  They spent the whole time, as I have spent and every queer person has spent so much time, wondering if we’re part of the people.  Listening carefully to hear if we are included in “the people.”  And I just still feel like, Oh, if I could do it over, I would, especially after I lived through a constitutional amendment fight in Minnesota, but mostly I want to shout out for the amazing work that the California UUs did.

Evan Wolfson had this slogan of “failing forward” that meant:  could we learn something in each of the failures that could take us to the next one so that we could fail forward?   By then I was running something then called Advocacy and Witness Programs.  Rob Keithan, who was by then the Washington Office Director, said I spent my time redefining success all the time.  I had to, because we were failing a lot.  But failing forward, learning what you could learn.  Redefining success:  Well, how many people wrote a letter, how many people were at the demonstration, how much resistance was there, how were the UUs involved?

So in that time, people started doing a lot of different things.  Clergy, as Jay mentioned, a lot of straight clergy started refusing to sign marriage licenses for anyone until they could do it for everyone.  That was kind of started by Rhett Baird, who was then in Fayetteville, Arkansas, who got a lot of local media — both positive and negative — about it, believe me.  And when I looked him up to make sure I had his name right, I saw that he had been an Unsung Hero of UURMaPA.  So that was kind of fun.  But a lot of folks started doing that.

Phyllis Hubbell had this idea as a lawyer:  could we sue because our freedom of religion is being denied?  And she and I went and met with an ACLU lawyer who said, “Please don’t bring up freedom of religion.”  And when I look at where that’s gone, I kind of wish we had.

But anyway, people were really, in their own ways, doing what they could do even as these anti-marriage bills passed and passed.  And meanwhile, Urvashi Vaid, the aforementioned person from NGLTF, had moved on to something called Arcus Foundation, which funds GLBT rights and Great Apes.  So Urvashi started funding the organizers in mainstream denominations, to organize and get equality in them.

I say this stuff because I think people believe, “Oh, attitudes just change.”  And I’m with James Luther Adams — they change if we change them.  A little money never hurts, and some organizing.  People like the Methodists are still struggling.  But meanwhile the pro-gay Methodists got a whole lot stronger.  And the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, a whole lot of other mainline people who wouldn’t ordain people, wouldn’t marry people, were shifting because of really good organizing that was going on.  And so there were just amazing people in all of those movements whom probably some of you know locally.

So by the time 2012 rolled around, there were ballot initiatives that were pro-marriage equality in Minnesota, Maine and Washington.  And they all passed, by popular vote — PRO marriage equality!  Well, in Minnesota, an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment was defeated by popular vote.   In that fight, the UUs were in there, but no longer were we the front; the Lutheran Bishop was fantastic.  And in Minnesota, that’s who needs to be up front.  But faith-based organizing was not, “Here’s $5,000, go do it.”  It was absolutely central to the whole campaign.

And I know that that was true in Maine and Washington too, that we were having values-based conversations with people because out of Prop 8’s failure came script after script after script, trying to figure out how to have the conversations that actually shift people.  And what we learned doing that, in something called Deep Canvassing, is that, so often we want to say, “Let’s not talk about values, let’s talk about the Constitution,” or something like that.

But instead, with deep canvassing, you call people and you’d start by asking them a question to figure out where they were.  “So if the vote were held today, would you vote for this amendment to limit rights, against it, or you don’t know.”  And if people said, “I’m for it, the Bible is clear, I read it.  That settles it,” you’d say, “Thank you very much.”  That was the end of the conversation.

But if they said, “I think I’m going to vote for it, because… I don’t know, I’m not comfortable with it.  I think I’m going to vote for it.”  You’d say, “Can I ask you what marriage means to you?”  And then it was amazing the conversations you’d actually have.  And you could do this on the phone or at someone’s door.  Shockingly, people really wanted to talk.  No one had ever asked them what marriage meant to them.  And they talked about sickness and death and love.  And you’d get into these really deep conversations, and only after they’d really shared deeply about what marriage meant to them, then you’d insert this question:  “Do you think it might be the same thing for same sex couples?” And then, if you’d had this deeper conversation, two thirds of them would say, “I never thought about that like that before.”  And they would move.  Two thirds of them would move your way.

I am a deep canvassing zealot.  I’ve gone out and worked with a guy in California who does this.  I think it is the way forward.  If you think about doing this on health care, for instance, I think we could do a lot, because if people are asked to share about health and health care, everyone’s got family and stories to tell.

But anyway, that was going on in Minnesota.  I know hundreds of thousands of conversations were going on, and I was facilitating some groups called Conversations With People You Know, which was teaching people how to talk to their own family members, or people they worked with.

Then the last thing that you always had them say to the person who was like, “Yeah, I still don’t know,” was “Can we talk about this again in two weeks?”  And in Minnesota, which is ruled by “Minnesota nice,” no matter how much someone might want to say, “No, I never want to talk about this again,” they would have to, by Minnesota law, say, “Sure.  Okay.”  So then they’d get called back in two weeks and the conversations would go on.

This is my favorite story.  There was a woman that I met at a canvass who told the story of someone she’d called; her mom lived up North in Minnesota in a small town, and she kept talking to her and talking to her and the mom was like, “No, no, I don’t like it.  I don’t like it.”  And finally she said to her mom, “Mom, you said when you got divorced, it was really hard for you.”  And her mom said, “It was.”  And she said, “Why would you want to make other people’s lives harder than they already are?”  And that line… her mother put up a yard sign, talked her neighbor into putting up a yard sign.  You just never know what conversation is actually going to shift somebody.

So anyway, I would say, Standing on the Side of Love came out of our success with marriage equality;  people used it for marriage equality, but also for other issues.  (And I think it’s much better now called Side with Love.)  It’s one of the many legacies of this work.

And what you did matters, you may not even have remembered it.  I talked about it today.  What you did in 1994, what you did in 2004, 2006, when you failed, when the vote didn’t go your way, it all adds up to culture change.

So in 2015, we got to experience this during General Assembly.  Remember that the Supreme Court decision came down.  Marriage Equality was the law of the land!!!  In 1997, after DOMA, John Buehrens was President and he had asked all of the same sex couples who would be married if they could to come forward, or if your partner wasn’t there, come forward.  And people were really mad because there was an Action of Immediate Witness about it and they thought he was tilting the ballot box by making a fuss about this particular issue. But of course, it was preplanned at a Public Witness meeting because we were in the room, because those couples were in the room.  And in 2015, there we were to celebrate together, to take it into us.  Hillary Goodridge was there; I was honored to be asked to speak.  I said, I hope that we can take this victory and move towards other victories, towards a time when Black Lives Matter.

And I think now in these times, for me, those victories, I have to hold them in my cells and say, “We did this.  We can do it again.  It’s possible we can do it about other things we care about.  People really can change.  And life really can change.”  And that’s what I’ve got to say today.

Rev. Leslie Westbrook

Celebrating Love and Commitment

Offered by Rev. Leslie Westbrook
Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, Bethesda, MD
July 20, 2003

I officiated at my first lesbian “Celebration of Love” in 1973. After performing the ceremony, I registered the religious event in the records of the church I served with the required documentation: the date, the place, the couples’ full names, and myself as the officiating minister. I had no idea my actions would be seen as controversial.

Today, as our nation debates whether gays and lesbians should have the right to marry, I think back to over thirty years ago when two women asked me, because I was a Unitarian Universalist minister, to bless their union.

It was September of 1973. The couple were in their early thirties. They sat holding hands. One woman was wearing jeans and a denim jacket. Her cropped blonde hair feathered softly around a petite heart-shaped face unadorned by cosmetics. There was a no-nonsense appearance about the way she carried herself. She was from the working class, from Irish South Boston.

Her partner, who had medium length dark hair, was in a traditional summer dress. Pastel hues captured and emphasized her gentle appearance. Both women’s quiet reserve permeated the room.

While they both seemed shy, the woman in the jeans took the lead. First, she formally thanked me for meeting with them and then she told me that she and her partner wanted a wedding ceremony. As I asked them questions, they each, in their own very different ways, spoke of how much they loved one another and wanted to be with each other. They spoke of a felt need to tell the world of their love. The woman in the jeans spoke the most. Her speech was intense, direct. She looked me straight in the eyes as she spoke. I liked her. I liked her partner. I liked the way these two women were with each other. I said I certainly would perform the ceremony they requested.

I had just begun my first month as Assistant Minister at Arlington Street Church, in Boston. I was twenty-seven, naive, idealistic, hopeful, a woman in what was still a man’s world, trying to learn how to be a minister. I had been drawn to the church I served because of what the Senior Minister preached… respect and equality for all people.

I had never performed a wedding, nor taken a course in theological school about how to develop a wedding ceremony for a couple. A child of the 60’s, I was a product of the women’s liberation movement. The Senior Minister, approached first to perform the ceremony, gave me a private tutorial. What he taught me are still guiding principles when I work with any couple.

The evening I met with the couple, I sat in an office under a large portrait of William Ellery Channing, the father of our religious movement. Channing’s sermon on the occasion of the ordination of Jared Sparks at First Church in Baltimore laid out the Unitarian theology of a unitary, not a trinitary, God. Later, Channing had spoken out against slavery, declaring that all human beings were of one species. Our modern rendition of Channing’s ideas are that whether we are white or black, rich or poor, gay or straight or bisexual or transgender, the human blood and desire that courses through our veins is basically the same. I thought it was appropriate that I and those two women sat under Channing’s portrait.

Marriage invariably stirs strong emotions in most of us — no matter whether we are gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender. We may have thoughts and feelings about our parents’ marriages, the relationships of others we have loved, perhaps of our own past marriages and unions. We may remember painful disappointments, as well as moments of feeling uplifted. Our emotions may run the entire gamut from desire to disgust, from fear to longing, from confusion or ambivalence to absolute clarity of feeling.
Not everyone wants a committed, on-going, monogamous relationship. Many people, however, do. They want an intimate, sexual, companionate relationship that they can count on over the long haul. As in the heterosexual world, the nature of those relationships and the details of the sexual, emotional, financial, social and familial relationships are as varied as are the people who create them.

When a couple comes to me because they want a public celebration of their love and commitment, I help them design a service that will reflect their understanding of the love and affection they feel for one another. I help them design a service that will express their hopes and promises for their future together. I help them think about and acknowledge the limits of their relationship, i.e. under what conditions they would leave the other person. What is it that is critically important to the maintenance and sustenance of their relationship? What would seriously threaten its continuance?

The elements of a Celebration of Love or Gay Wedding are usually simple but full of intense feeling and yearning.

I remember the Opening Words of another Celebration of Love I performed in a garden in Concord, Massachusetts in May of 1981. The words were composed from what the couple told me and what they wrote about their relationship. Imagine that garden, green in the New England spring, sprinkled with the bright flowers that come after a long winter. This time, the wedding was in the backyard of a home in a well-heeled residential neighborhood. Imagine a clear sky, no traffic noise, a slight chill in the air. The Opening Words spoke of what the women valued and cherished, their hopes for the future, their promises to one another. At their suggestion, I said:

“We are here today at Ann and Linda’s home because Ann and Linda love each other. We have been called together as witnesses to the happiness which they have found together and to the pledge which they will now make, each to the other, for the mutual service of their common life.

“We rejoice with them that out of all the world they have found each other, and that they will henceforth find the deeper meaning and richness of life in sharing with each other.

“This ceremony brings with it no guarantee. Ann and Linda must deliberately intend, in every coming day, to be married to one another, without regard to the ebb and flow of feelings, without regard to the joys and sorrows of life, without regard to the gifts and denials of circumstance.

“Ann and Linda each come to this union with a unique background that has made her who she is. From this they will make their own history, each one knowledgeable and thankful for what went before in the life of the other.”

Like every other wedding at which I have officiated, I declared that the purpose of the gathering was to witness the exchange of marriage vows in which two people commit themselves to a relationship of love, caring and support.

I told the gathered assembly that we stood with this couple in a profound moment in time and we were honored to be with them.

I declared that the couple pledging themselves to one another needed us, their family and friends, to recognize, to support, and to celebrate with them as they began their life together. In fact, I said that the ideals, the understanding, and the mutual respect which they brought to their relationship had their roots in the love, friendship, guidance, and shared experience that we had provided them.

And I spoke of how each woman came from a different family, with different cultural and religious values and different life experiences. Their relationship would be as unique as the two people who formed it.

There were readings of poetry and prose that expressed Ann and Linda’s understanding of love and marriage. Then came the most important part of the ceremony. I asked the couple, “Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?” When they responded affirmatively, I invited them to exchange their wedding vows. Ann spontaneously declared her love, with no written text. Linda, being more organized and formal, vowed her love and commitment with the following words. She said:

“In admiration and trust, I say these true things to you, Ann. I promise to share myself gladly with you, wholeheartedly and without reservation, never to allow any other relation to come before ours. I will seek you out in times of my need and comfort you in yours. You are my best friend and only lover. I will love, respect, and care for you through good times and bad, as long as we both shall live.”

The couple exchanged rings, and I declared that they were loving and committed partners from that day forth. The couple kissed, and the assembly laughed with pleasure and clapped.

All of the elements of an adult love relationship were incorporated into the ceremony.

As described in The Psychology of Love by Robert J. Sternberg and Michael L. Barness, an adult love relationship typically includes passion, intimacy, and commitment (p.142).

First, PASSION. These two women were sexual partners. As with any other couple, the details of the ways they expressed their love, affection and sexual desire were known only to them. They were, however, saying in front of their family and friends that this part of their lives together was satisfying and they both consented to it.

Second, INTIMACY. Intimacy includes a feeling of closeness and human warmth. Each woman expressed high regard for her partner. They received and gave one another emotional support, and they felt loved, appreciated, understood and similar to one another.

Finally, COMMITMENT. In front of family and friends, these two women said they would do all they could to maintain the love that they felt for one another.

The issue of gay marriage is now in the national spotlight. Some legal authorities have taken the risk and granted civil sanction to gay unions. I invite you to support those efforts as Unitarian Universalists by speaking out about your religious views on gay marriage, by being involved in lawful assembly, by lobbying your legislators on behalf of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

I close this morning with the wedding benediction I have used since 1973. I do not know the author of these beautiful words. I have altered the strictly heterosexual references, so that the poem refers to all loving couples. I say:

I wish for you now, and in the years ahead, these three things.

Love in your lives that makes you better people, that continues to give you joy and zest for living, that provides you with energy to face the responsibilities and challenges of life.

A sense of home, with whomever you choose to make up your family, a home that can stand as a symbol of people living together in love, honesty and equality.

And finally, the capacity to say to those you love, when you come to the end of your lives, ‘Because you have loved me, my faith in myself has grown; and because I have seen the good in you, my faith in all humanity has deepened.’

Amen.

Confronting Our Prejudice

A sermon offered by Rev. Roger Fritts
Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington, Kentucky
November 4, 1979

One Monday evening in 1955 three men in Boise, were arrested and accused of seducing two young boys. The local newspaper, the Idaho Daily Statesman, carried the story the next day, with reports of “lewd and lascivious conduct” and “infamous crimes against nature.” The fact that the “young boys” were physically mature male hustlers ages 15 and 17 was not included in the reports. In the next few days, the Statesman published a series of editorials with such titles as “Crush the Monster” and “This Mess Must be Removed.”

The Police Department announced that a thorough investigation was under way and that further arrests were imminent. In the meantime, the prosecuting attorney and the courts were moving fast. One of the first 3 men who had been arrested was promised leniency if he would plead guilty. He agreed to do so, and 9 days after the arrest he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

4 days after the first 3 arrests, a prominent banker was arrested as a member of what was called a “homosexual ring,” It might have looked less like a “ring” if the public had been told that the banker had never met the other 3 men, and that the only “ravaged children” involved were the same 2 rough, grown-up kids. But these facts were carefully withheld both by the police and the district attorney. The big news on the surface was that the banker (a family man, with a well brought-up son of his own) admitted his homosexual interest and stated that he had had contact with the boys.

Because the sworn statements of the young hustlers sounded nothing at all like those of some innocent kids, the statements were extensively “doctored” by the authorities to make them read more convincingly in court.

The police continued their search and actually did manage to arrest a dozen people, but only by spreading their net to include relations between consenting adults, a fact nobody seemed to notice amid all the talk of lewd and lascivious conduct with “our youth.”

To make matters worse, Time magazine reported that the city had… “Sheltered a widespread homosexual underworld that involved some of Boise’s most prominent men and had preyed on hundreds of teenage boys for the past decade.” The article went on to say that in recent investigations the “police talked with 125 youths who had been involved.”

The 50,000 residents of Boise, having been primed by their own press, and now reading all this in a national magazine, were brought to a state of near hysteria. Never before had people “known” that so many were involved, and that neither men nor boys were to be trusted.

The police instituted a curfew on all youths below the age of 17. Men were embarrassed to meet in pairs, or to attend their clubs without their wives. Friday night poker games were discontinued until somebody thought of arranging for at least one woman to be present. It became out of the question for a man to pause to watch football practice for fear of looking as if he were “interested in” the boys.

As happens in all witch-hunts, the hysteria in Boise subsided almost as quickly as it began. But even though the hubbub died down, the myths about what had happened continued to grow. 10 years after the event, a Newsweek reporter visited Boise and was assured that at the height of the scandal, “Millionaires from all over America, indeed from all over the world, were flying into Boise because only there could they select fresh young boys for their favors… and, in fact, there was so much homosexual traffic into Boise that United Airlines had to put special flights into operation during the busy season — the summer.”

There is a widespread conviction among people in this country that homosexuality is a sickness, a form of mental illness, perhaps even a sin. The story of the events in Boise illustrates how this conviction can easily turn into blind fear and paranoid hysteria. With the distance of space and time, the Boise events are amusing — but in our laughter we should not forget the widespread anguish and pain that such witch-hunts cause.

Dr. Alfred Kinsey in the 1940’s and 50’s surveyed the American population and found that 37% of males and 20% of females had at least one adult sexual experience with a person of the same sex. Applying Kinsey’s sample to us this morning, it means that about 20 of us here today have had a homosexual experience as an adult.

Kinsey also found that at least 10% of the persons he surveyed were predominantly homosexual. Meaning that about 7 of us here this morning are predominantly homosexual.

The same likelihood of one in ten would be true for any 10 men or women we customarily deal with in our daily life — doctors, dentists, accountants, lawyers, secretaries, teachers, city-council members, police officers and sales clerks. All of us know people who are gay even though most of us don’t know that they are gay. So it is important to keep in mind when it is said that homosexuality is a form of mental illness, that we are not talking about a few hair-dressers, or a few men hanging around public washrooms; we are talking about 20 million men and women: soldiers, senators, poets and plumbers, mailmen and ministers. Gay people are everywhere. If we base our actions on the premise that homosexuals are sick, we encourage discrimination against millions of people. Gay people are unable to find jobs, unable to find homes; they are forced to lead lives of secrecy and deception. Before we promote such oppression and suffering for so many people, we better be damn sure we know what we’re talking about.

In fact, there is no evidence that homosexuals are sick or mentally ill:

  • It is not true that there are more homosexuals in mental hospitals than heterosexuals.
  • It is not true that there are more homosexual alcoholics than heterosexual alcoholics
  • It is not true that homosexuals commit more crimes than heterosexuals – in proportion to their numbers, gay people commit far fewer crimes than heterosexuals.
  • It is not true that homosexuals molest children; in proportion to their numbers, gay people commit far fewer sex crimes than heterosexuals.

The most conclusive study of the matter (though there have been a number of others) was made in 1957 by Dr. Evelyn Hooker, a psychologist at UCLA. She found 30 homosexual men who were not in therapy, but rather appeared to be fairly well -integrated into society. She then found 30 similar heterosexual men who matched the first group in age, education, and I.Q.

Dr. Hooker tested the whole group of 60 with a battery of accepted psychological tests, and added a substantial amount of biographical information on each individual. The one point of information she did not include was whether the men were homosexual or heterosexual in their orientation.

She then submitted all 60 of the case records to several of her colleagues for analysis, and found that they were unable to distinguish between the two groups. There was no evidence that the homosexuals were any more (or less) mentally ill than the heterosexuals. She concluded that there simply is no necessary connection “between homosexuality and mental illness.”

In spite of this evidence, there is a tendency in our society to perpetuate the myth that gay people are ill. For example, a few years ago CBS television decided to produce a major documentary on homosexuality. Thanks to various social changes and a genuine increase in public frankness, it seemed possible by 1957 to turn out a candid, interesting program on the subject. Young, talented producers were assigned to the task, and the whole project seemed well-motivated.

In an effort to give an inside view, 5 homosexual men were interviewed on camera with questions designed to show how their lives looked to them. The producers chose individuals with different perspectives. Two were quite disturbed people, a third man would present a mixed picture, and two others would reflect a certain healthy cheerfulness. The blend was supposed to give the report balance.

In the preliminary editings, however, the two disturbed persons seemed to have little impact; the healthy persons seemed to greatly outweigh them. A new balance was struck by editing the mixed case in such a way as to make it decidedly disturbed. This individual later threatened to sue the network for misrepresenting him — but did not actually do so.

The producers now felt that they had a good documentary, with the two healthy individuals being balanced by 3 clearly disturbed persons. They especially felt good about one of the healthy individuals, who had a fresh, handsome, all-American-boy image.

When the documentary was previewed by the executives at CBS it was decided that it was still too supportive. It was felt that this particular young man happened to have such a strong clean exuberance, that his whole bearing seemed to recommend his style of life. It was feared that this might bring charges that the documentary was for homosexuality. Therefore, the producers were told to fix the interview. At crucial points they cut the sound track into separate words and phrases, and by re-arranging these they managed to change the man’s sentences and the essence of what he was saying.

The program was broadcast only once, for when the young man saw what they had done to him, and heard himself say completely unfamiliar things , he entered a formal complaint against CBS, citing fraud, withdrawing his release, and thus freezing all re-runs. It is because of manipulative distortions like this that our prejudice against gays is perpetuated. Unbiased views are hard to arrive at in the first place, and are virtually impossible to express with safety when they are out of line with prevailing social attitudes.

It seems to me, however, that there is a way to break free of the fears society encourages us to have with regard to homosexuality. I have discovered repeatedly that it is next to impossible to fear someone you know in depth, from within as it were. When we really know what their experience has been, what they see and have seen, what they fear and hope and wish for, how life looks to them, you are likely to feel tenderness, warmth for them, to love them, to care about their well-being.

All over America more and more gay men and women are coming forward. They are taking the risk of being honest. They are losing their jobs and homes, they are being shunned and ridiculed, they are being attacked and murdered. But slowly they are overcoming a prejudice that goes back through 2,000 years of human history.

This opening up is also taking place in the Unitarian Universalist ministry. There have, of course, been homosexual Universalist and Unitarian ministers for 150 years. But now for the first time a few gay men and women are being open about their sexuality when they interview for positions.

So far the results have not been good. Unitarian Universalists opened their churches to Indians in the 17th century, opened their churches to Blacks in the 19th century, and ordained the first woman minister over 100 years ago. But no openly homosexual man or woman has yet been called to serve as the permanent minister in a Unitarian Universalist Church.

Now it happens that I have a personal interest in this. Although I myself am a confirmed heterosexual, one of my close friends is openly gay. He and I shared an apartment for two years when we were both preparing for the ministry at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley.

For the past 20 months he has received rejection letters from church after church. Here is an example from a city of 2 million located in the northeast United States. A member of the pulpit committee writes:

“I want to express my personal regrets regarding our committee’s decision not to call you. The truth of the matter is that I do not think our membership could handle you. In my opinion you would be a cause for concern among the membership who would find it difficult to understand let alone accept your views. I wanted to send you this personally because I think you are far and away the best of the lot. I have great personal concern that you get settled into the ministry.”

While waiting for a church to call him, my friend has worked as a bank teller, and is currently serving in a temporary position as assistant minister at the Unitarian Church in San Francisco. His name, by the way, is Mark Belletini. Some of you met him a year and a half ago when he spoke at my ordination here in Lexington. We risk losing many capable young men and women like Mark to other ministries and other churches if we refuse to accept them as they are. This church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington, does not have a very good record with regard to supporting homosexuals. A few years ago the Board of Directors voted 10 to 2 to refuse to allow a gay group at the University to hold a dance at the church.

Because I am on a limited 5-year contract, it is likely that sometime in the next two years this church will become involved in a search for a new minister. Some of the persons who apply for this position will undoubtedly be openly gay. Then the question I ask this morning will no longer be hypothetical.

I hope when you are all faced with this question again, you will remember this passage, written by another Unitarian Universalist minister, David Rankin, and contained in a sermon that can be found in our pamphlet rack. He wrote:

“We might be able to combat our prejudice against homosexuality by putting sex in its proper perspective. I like sex. I think sex is good, wonderful, productive, interesting – but I believe in our society, we have given sexuality a prominence and important that it really doesn’t deserve.
I think self-esteem is more important…
I think love is more important…
I think survival is more important…”

Yet if a visitor came from outer space and looked upon the United States of America, surely he would think that the most important element in our lives is sexuality.

Gore Vidal was right in his novel Myra Breckinridge, when he wrote: “We have allowed our genitals to define who and what we are. When we look upon individuals only in terms of their sexuality, we don’t see them in their fullness and in their completeness as human beings – but only as objects of envy and hatred.”

Before the sermon, Rev. Fritts invited the congregation to fill out a card asking for the information below. The cards were then collected and the responses read aloud. A total of 77 cards were returned.

A HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION

Your church is looking for a minister. Two equally qualified candidates are seeking the position. One is openly heterosexual and one is openly homosexual. Who would you choose based on who you would want as your minister disregarding what you feel the rest of the congregation could or could not handle? Which individual would you personally choose as your ministers:

Check one:    _____heterosexual _____homosexual

WHY?

WRITTEN COMMENTS OF THOSE WHO CHECKED HETEROSEXUAL (Totals: 34)

  1. God in the Holy Scriptures has decreed man and wife, male and female. God has said it is an abomination and curse for like kinds to have intercourse. God is not a man that He should lie. He says I am the Lord thy God and I change not.
  2. Although I would like to say “No difference in the two,” I would prefer the heterosexual as an appropriate model for my two sons and also as an affirmation of my femaleness.
  3. Our church would not be helped by calling such a controversial person to be active in our church and community. While we are trying to grow we need not rock the boat and fall in. However I would be accepting of a homosexual if the congregation were to vote for one.
  4. I would choose the heterosexual person because I could more comfortably identify with him or her.
  5. Because I cannot understand the thinking of the homosexual and wonder if such a person can truly understand the world around the heterosexual person.
  6. Unsure of feeling why. Not quite able to accept homosexuality as a healthy alternative.
  7. My answer is based upon the Bible, which is the only true source of wisdom. From the beginning, God has considered homosexuality an abomination – not the person but the sin, Jesus wants to redeem the person by His saving power and make them new in His love.
  8. I would feel more comfortable with this person as there would be no significant influences in his views of what is considered almost “abnormal.”
  9. Heterosexual – BUT! Question as it stands makes little sense, because of a variety of other individual characteristics which could change my choice. The “all things being equal” argument doesn’t hold since in this case all things are not equal. My choice could be the opposite.
  10. They are equal in all other ways. Really I wouldn’t vote for either; don’t want a minister.
  11. Assuming candidates equal in all other areas, I must consider the local environment in which we (church) must function. Open homosexuality will not help liberal religion.
  12. a) I am prejudiced, a “gut-level” reaction; b) I prefer to have a public example of heterosexuality for those (children especially) who might see the minister as a role to emulate; c) I like heterosexual relations myself.
  13. Given the distribution of heterosexual and homosexual people in society, the heterosexual minister would have more in common with a larger number of people in the congregation.
  14. Would view him/her as better fitting into the mainstream of society, I would not stereotype him/her by sex role, I could probably relate better to them although after I got to know them it wouldn’t matter. On the other hand, the homosexual may have a healthier outlook on minorities and those with differing views.
  15. Might have more understanding of my needs.
  16. I believe his homosexuality may be a handicap to him in some situations.
  17. Because of public acceptance or social pressure rather than personal preference.
  18. I’d feel more comfortable relating to that type of person.
  19. I feel that even though I’ve opened my mind to accept people of different life¬styles than mine, I don’t know that I could relate as well to a homosexual as heterosexual – I still have some misgivings.
  20. Honesty is the best policy – birds of a feather, etc.
  21. If they are equally qualified, it would seem natural to choose the one who would cause less dissension. We have enough division of ideas without unnecessarily adding more.
  22. I think if everything else were equal, I would probably choose the heterosexual and I suppose that’s only because I am heterosexual and would feel him better able to advise me. If I were gay, I’d choose the homosexual.
  23. I feel there are enough conflicts in the church without adding this issue.
  24. Because I’m heterosexual.
  25. If both men were equally qualified I could relate best to the heterosexual.
  26. Because of the community my church is in – though rationally I know that is a wrong reason.
  27. They are not equally qualified since the one has failed to solve at least one of his own spiritual or psychological hang-ups – one of the most “delicate,” far-reaching, least understood, disturbing, least natural and very basic.
  28. My entire life experience has been in association with heterosexuals, and choice of an equally qualified homosexual would be almost “exhibitionist” leaning over backward. If the homosexual were better qualified I’d choose him.
  29. Likely to be more honest.
  30. I would be more comfortable – fewer questions as to how I felt toward subject thus leaving more time for other matters.
  31. Because it’s the “easy” way out – there would probably be less of a threat from acceptance in the community. However, I would like to think that I would have the courage to make a statement to the community that I am not prejudiced against homosexuals.
  32. As I understand it, homosexuality may result from unfortunate experiences in growing up. If those experiences have affected sexual attitudes, I have to wonder what other attitudes it has affected.
  33. I feel heterosexuality is healthier than homosexuality. I want my minister to be a model of what is healthy and best.
  34. (no explanation – just a check mark)

WRITTEN COMMENTS OF THOSE WHO CHECKED HOMOSEXUAL (Total: 13)

  1. Because I would feel that he (she) needed a chance. Maybe I am wrong, but I have always been for the underdog. (I would not have answered this way 30 years ago but would want to.)
  2. Because I realize this person may have difficulty in obtaining a position in many churches and it wouldn’t make any difference to me.
  3. Assuming there are no other differences, I would choose the homosexual since society and I need to work on being more tolerant and accepting of superficial differences among people.
  4. He has probably faced injustice before and deserves a break.
  5. Interacting with anyone of a different lifestyle than my own would give me the opportunity to learn about something outside of myself.
  6. a) More institutions should be willing to accept avowed homosexuals as public figures – the church should be in the forefront; b) The individual probably would find a hard time getting a job somewhere else, even though he is qualified. However these apply only if the candidates are equally qualified.
  7. I would choose on the basis of exposing and learning from, my own, and others’ discriminatory feelings and fear of the idea of dealing with an openly homosexual person.
  8. I would assume this person would be used to confronting controversial issues that are threatening and would not hold back in confronting any issues.
  9. I would like the church as a community to make this kind of social statement. I don’t foresee it making any other difference at all.
  10. a) The extreme difficulty homosexuals face finding a church that will call them as the minister; b) The opportunity it would offer the congregation to grow in facing the issue; c) Respect I would have for that person for having the courage to be open about their sexual preference.
  11. Because I feel he would center his energies on us and the mission of this kind of church instead of being gregarious and diffusing his concentration by being all things to all people.
  12. Because I feel he/she would have greater difficulty being placed and realizing his/her potential as a minister. Trying to give an honest answer – the issue of personal appeal would also enter in – and maybe buried prejudices would make the heterosexual seem more attractive.
  13. To give him a chance when others probably do not.

WRITTEN COMMENTS OF THOSE WHO CHECKED NEITHER HETEROSEXUAL OR HOMOSEXUAL (Total: 30)

  1. As economists are so prone to say – “All other things being equal.” They never are. Sexual preference is merely one aspect of a minister’s (or anyone else’s) personality. Sexual preference is not that important!
  2. I would not want to make that decision based on the individual’s sexual orientation. The two would be different in other ways – personality, philosophy, and so on. If the homosexual seemed the better of the two – I would have no problems with his/her being gay.
  3. I would not base a decision like this on a person’s personal sexuality alone, therefore I will not choose either given only this information.
  4. I would attempt to choose the best qualified candidate based on my perception of their ability, disregarding their sexual preference, I don’t believe that any two candidates would be perfectly equal.
  5. I couldn’t make such a choice with the information you’ve provided. I don’t feel that I would discriminate against either based on their sexual preference.
  6. The minister I’d choose is one who could relate to me, who’s beyond flaunting a lifestyle, who’s into more than himself – whatever he is.
  7. This hypothetical would never happen because no two people are perceived as equally qualified, I would neither seek or avoid a gay minister.
  8. I could not make a choice based on sexual preference – some other criteria would have to be used.
  9. I can’t choose. I would prefer a heterosexual because homosexuals make me uncomfortable, especially if I would want personal counseling, But I think I’d learn more about homosexuals from a homosexual than too it might not matter much. Sexuality is a minor part of a minister’s role – isn’t it?
  10. I would disregard the matter of homo/hetero sexuality and choose on the basis of other criteria altogether.
  11. Depends – Whichever one I liked better, regardless of sexual preference, I would probably choose a lesbian minister over a male straight minister.
  12. I would have to know them both as to character, personality etc.
  13. The sexual leanings would make no difference if either can be open-minded in this ministering.
  14. This has no bearing on my choice at all.
  15. I would hope I could find some other basis for my decision, I have very little experience relating to persons who are openly homosexual but what I have had has not been unpleasant.
  16. I would have to decide which one based on whether liked him or her, disregarding sexual preference because I feel that is irrelevant.
  17. I don’t think sexual preference should make a difference – I wouldn’t want either if they were being very blatant about their sexual activity.
  18. I don’t know. More would depend on the theological and socio-organizational. I find both extremes probably inadequate.
  19. I would choose the one I thought would make the best minister regardless of his sexual choice.
  20. Having not met either of the persons, I cannot answer. Sex preference is not a legitimate variable.
  21. There is no such thing as being equally qualified. I don’t believe sexual preference should be the basis of choice.
  22. Impossible – something would sway my opinion but not sexual preference.
  23. I would prefer a heterosexual minister primarily because I myself am heterosexual and feel that I would probably relate to him or her in an easier fashion.
  24. I would not be able to choose one or the other on this basis. I would have to know them as individuals and base my choice on how I would relate to them.
  25. It would make absolutely no difference. A person’s sexual preference is their own business and only one aspect of themselves.
  26. It would make little difference what the minister’s sexual preferences were. Which minister would be best for me would depend upon his other qualities such as humor, intelligence, fair-minded and friendly.
  27. I can’t make a choice between the two if the only thing I have to go on is sexual preference, This is not a major factor in my visualization of a good minister.
  28. There are other factors much more important, I could care less what sexual tendencies a person has, I might well choose the homosexual based on his strength and courage to be honest about his homosexuality regardless of social pressures and taboos.
  29. I would have to know more about the individuals – their personalities before making a decision. Their sexuality should not enter into it.
  30. There is no way I can decide on that basis.
Jane Dwinell

Worship Service, UU Rainbow History Project

Offered by Jane Dwinell, October, 2019
UURMaPA Conference

Opening Words

We gather this morning in good company, remembering those who have come before, celebrating those who will come after, being grateful for all that we have together.  For those who have sparked our lights, who have mentored our way, who stick by us through thick and thin.  For these we are grateful, and for these lights we kindle our chalice.

Reading

“Who Am I Not to Be Blessed?” by Chris Jimmerson

In moonlit shadows,
At the edge of night-darkened oak trees
I see it.
Across sunny pathways,
In the buzzing of insects, amongst the flowering forest greenery,
I hear it.
From the touch of ones loved,
The embraces of those gone before me,
I feel it.
In the poems I love dearly,
The songs that speak to my heart,
The sculpture that catches my imagination,
The discoveries still to be made,
I sense it.
It is in the fire of distant suns,
The cool drip of waters,
The slight chill in the breeze,
The laughter of children, no matter what their age, old and young, grown and still small;
It is the breath of life, the stardust of souls, the magic of remembrance.
Who am I not to surrender to it in gratitude?
Who am I to not be blessed?

Reflection

It’s a pretty strange profession we’re in — or were in, depending on how you look at it.  Does anyone ever “stop” being a minister?  That, perhaps, is a topic for another day.

Today I want to talk about the gratitude I feel for colleagues.  We’re told that we shouldn’t be friends with our congregants….  So we often turn to colleagues.  But then, they move or we move, and we are now far-flung.  Do those close bonds continue or not?  Do we now make new friends among our colleagues in a new area?  What about those seminary friends, people we deeply bonded with through the stress and discovery of those years?

Being here with all of you this week provides another layer of bonding.  Even though I don’t know most of you very well, there is a camaraderie, a knowing that we’ve been in the same place, though at different times.  I feel grateful for all of you, what you’ve shared, what you haven’t shared, simply your presence knowing that there are people you’ve made a difference for.

Right now, a group of retired colleagues is making a big difference for me.  There is a monthly Zoom meeting for those of us who are caregivers for a loved one — partner, parent, sibling.  It’s a simple, quiet hour where we share what’s going on for us.  As many of you know, my husband, Sky, has Alzheimer’s disease — a path that we certainly didn’t intend to take.  Other than my best friend from high school, it’s my colleagues — retired and not yet retired — who have been my greatest support, and for that I am immensely grateful.

But I want to tell you a brief story about the first and most influential colleague for whom I am grateful.

I grew up in Vermont’s capital, Montpelier.  I had a pretty normal life.  I was a good student, and I participated in theater, music and other extracurricular activities.  I had a group of close friends.  I was active in my church, a United Church of Christ.  A regular teenager’s life, or so I thought.

Until that day when someone called me a lezzie.

I didn’t know what that word meant.

A friend more worldly than I said, “Oh, that means lesbian.”

Once again, I was clueless, but wasn’t about to say so.  I waited until I got home and headed for the dictionary.

“Lesbian: a female homosexual.”

I searched again.

“Homosexual: of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex.”

Oh.

So there was a word for what I had been doing with my best friend!  Wow.

Now I knew why I didn’t have a boyfriend.

In the meantime, I was part of a church that was active in the civil rights movement.  The minister spoke frequently of justice, and that God was color-blind.  We held meetings, and sit-ins, and people went to Washington to march.  My best friend’s father — yes, the same best friend — her father wept the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  It was the first time I had seen a man cry.

My heart understood faith and justice went together, and that until all people were free, no one was free, and that being part of a religion meant I was called to do all I could to ensure that all people were respected and honored no matter their race, creed or ethnicity.  Sexual orientation was not yet a word in my — or most anyone else’s — vocabulary.

Then came the Stonewall Riots, and, not long after, I went to Washington for a one of the Vietnam Moratorium marches.  Wandering along the march route, looking for a group to walk with, full of excitement and hope with the size of the crowd, the chanting, and the signs, I spied the Gay Pride banner and joined the group.  Soon I was holding one end of the banner, proudly marching down Constitution Avenue, media all around.  I was proud, but I still had no idea what it all really meant.

Back home, I spent time with my minister, sharing with him that I thought I, too, wanted to be a minister.  He encouraged me, took me under his wing, but I never dared share with him this other thing… this gay thing.  I believed in justice, and would work to see that happened for black people, and the people of Vietnam, but somehow, it never occurred to me that gays and lesbians also sought justice.

Not long after, I left Vermont for college, and my childhood minister killed himself.

So much for justice.  So much for the mercy and love of God.  If a minister, someone I thought had a direct line to God, could take his own life, I wanted nothing to do with this profession.  And the church… a lot of good it did.  Wally Short was gone, and my life would not be the same.  My faith was shattered.

We never knew why he killed himself, and the mourning was incomplete.  Wally had been loved by all, and admired by many.  His wife and children shed no light on his passing.  I remained haunted for years and had stayed away from church and religion in a great part because of his unexplained death.

Then I could no longer ignore the call — the call to love, the call to justice, the call to right relationship and divine presence that is found in religious community.

But Wally’s memory stayed with me, and stood by me as I learned and questioned, and prayed, and ministered to those in my care.  Why had he died?

Then at the 2000 GA in Nashville, I was chatting with the woman behind me in line as we waited to get coffee.  My name tag identified me as a Vermont resident, and she, too, had lived in Vermont for a time.

“Where?” I asked.

“Montpelier,” she said, “In the mid-sixties.”

“Did you attend church then?”  I wondered.

“Yes,” she said, “Bethany Church.”  My childhood church.

“You knew Wally Short, then,” I said.

“Oh, yes,” she said, “wasn’t he wonderful?  He inspired my husband to go into the ministry.”

“He inspired me, too,” stunned by this conversation in the coffee line.

“It was such a tragedy that he killed himself,” I ventured.  “I never knew why he did it.”

“Oh,” she said slowly.  “You didn’t know?”

“No… what?”

She hesitated.  “My husband and I had lunch with him the day he died.”

“Then… why?”  I asked.

“He killed himself because he was gay,”  she said softly.

The pieces fell into place.

It was my turn to order coffee, and I looked back to thank her for telling me, but she was gone.  I have no idea who she was, but I am forever grateful for our chance encounter.

Today, thanks to those who have gone before and paved the way, ministers in our faith do not have to fear being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and/or queer.  There is a place for us here.  And, gradually, there is a place for the queer community in other faith traditions including my childhood UCC.  I wish Wally could have lived long enough to experience this change.

I give thanks for Wally Short and what he taught me about the intersection of faith and justice.  The fight is not yet over, but we’ve come a long way since Stonewall.

And thank you for being here, for yourselves, for each other, and for our faith.

Amen

Closing Words
by Rumi

Be grateful for your life, every detail of it,
And your face will come to shine like the sun,
And everyone who sees it will be made glad and peaceful.
Persist in gratitude, and you will slowly become one with the Son of Love,
And Love will shine through you its all-healing joy.

Jay Deacon

Memories, Thoughts, Reflections on the Journey of GLBTQ People in the UUA

Offered by Rev.  F.  Jay Deacon, D.Min.
Keynote Address, UURMaPA Conference, October, 2019

(Note:  This is not a word-for word transcription of Jay’s talk.  Some asides have been omitted.  For the full flavor of his presentation, we recommend that you also view the video.)

Guess I’ll start this with 1969, the year of Stonewall, when Rev.  Jim Stoll came out publicly at a UU college conference and became, other than out MCC ministers, the first American minister to come out.

I wasn’t a UU in 1969 — I was about to enter Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, where I was a student from 1970-73.  After some agony I found my way to MCC.

So I didn’t know the early pioneers — not Jim Stoll, who after coming out never served a congregation again; or Dick Nash or Elgin Blair.

Before I showed up, there was the 1970 GA resolution against anti-gay and -bi discrimination; I wasn’t there when Nash and Blair lobbied in 1971 for the creation of an Office of Gay Affairs (so cleverly named), or in 1973 when the GA voted to create it or in 1974 when the GA voted to fund it.  I didn’t know Arlie Scott, who ran the office from January 1975 through 1977.  But I sure knew Bob Wheatly, who ran the office from 1977 until about 1984, and Daniel Pentlarge, who served as Acting Director until I started in 1986.

So let me give you just a little slice of the religious terrain facing this then-young gay person.  I was brought up in a giant evangelical Presbyterian church on the Jersey shore not far from Murray Grove, where John Murray stepped ashore carrying his Universalist gospel.  But nobody in Ocean County would ever have heard of Universalism.  Here, homosexuality was not spoken of.  The church was huge, and socially, the place to be seen — I could see how my lower-middle-class parents absorbed the respectability of the place, but I found it pretentious and boring, and my form of teenage revolt was to become an outright fundamentalist; I joined the Assembly of God, to my parents’ horror (and mine, now!).  Years later, my parents’ giant Presbyterian church became an anchor of the anti-gay sentiment in the denomination.

I went to the A/G’s Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri.  It was an awakening to the hypocrisy and religious pathology of fundamentalism.  In my senior year I left, disgusted, completing the last couple of courses by correspondence, and went to work for the Pentecostal evangelist David Wilkerson in New York.  He produced a film in which he is interviewing — his description — a Communist Lesbian somewhere in the Village, and he asked us all what we thought of it.  He didn’t like my answer and fired me for being a Communist sympathizer.  This was the end of my time with Teen Challenge.

So in 1970 I went on to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary — big school with Billy Graham on the Board — and there I found my biblical and theological studies disturbing.  There was too much that didn’t add up, didn’t make sense.  To make it worse, translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew revealed a deeply flawed text that had no chance of being divinely inspired.  By my senior year, I was editor of the seminary newspaper, and someone brought me a story about the chartering service of the Metropolitan Community Church of Boston (which met, you won’t be astonished to learn, at Arlington Street Church), which he thought I wouldn’t probably run, but I did.  It drew the responses you’d expect — all about the floodtide of iniquity sweeping the nation, barnyard sex, all that.

And I was beginning to face the fact of being gay.  So I ran an editorial defending MCC, all in the third person.  I couldn’t have come out — I would have been denied my M.Div.  The editorial became the talk of the school, and, to some extent, the Boston-area seminaries.  Now, when I sat down at a cafeteria table, everyone got up and left.  It might sound horrible but really it was liberating.  What was hard was when I told my closest friend that I thought I might be gay, and he literally ran away from me and never talked to me again.

But in the meantime, I made a visit to MCC Boston.  I had a friend with a car drop me off at Park Street Church, a huge evangelical outfit historically known as “Brimstone Corner” because the second sermon ever preached there was titled “The Uses of Real Fire in Hell.”  And I walked across the Common and Public Garden to Arlington Street Church, in whose chapel MCC worshipped.  I was a bit scared, because it meant being for the first time in my life surrounded by these people I’d always learned were strangely depraved.  It was utterly transformative:  because whatever I thought of myself, I knew these were good, warm, decent, spiritually sensitive human beings.

There, I met the great Rev.  Nancy Wilson, who would go on to be the denomination’s leader.  And I met founding pastor Larry Bernier, who had his eyes on Hartford, CT, where he wanted to plant a new congregation.  I was weeks from graduation:  would I be interested?

So MCC sent me to Hartford to found a new MCC congregation there.  When we tried to find a house of worship that would rent to us, guess what?  Only the Unitarian Meetinghouse in Hartford was up for it.  Okay, so you weren’t surprised.

These were exhilarating days, as both the city council and state legislature battled over our rights and dignity in the early 70s.  I wish I could describe a quite colorful confrontation with the Catholic Bishop of Hartford and the pastor of St.  Joseph Cathedral, but I have to tell you that in that incident, the Capital Region Conference of Churches, which had admitted us as a member, and its director Rev.  George Wells, acted quite heroically, and we got lots of free space on the front page of the Courant and on local radio and TV news.

Then there were the “Blue Berets,” otherwise called “Faithful & True Roman Catholics,” who would gather monthly at the former World’s Fair grounds in Queens and listen to an address by the Virgin Mary.  Once she said she’d brought her son, but they couldn’t see him.  A basic civil rights ordinance had been introduced in the City Council, and it was time for the hearing.  The Blue Berets came in buses to the hearing, in their blue berets, and they got there early, so I was at the back of the line to testify.  They all addressed the Council, saying the usual appalling and astonishing things, and then it was my turn, and all I had to say was “I believe by now you see why this ordinance is so important.”  It passed

My car had been firebombed; the story was in the next morning’s New York Times.  That afternoon I arrived late at a D.Min.  class at The Hartford Seminary Foundation.  When I walked into the classroom, I was greeted with a warm hug from the professor, Doug Lewis.

From there I went to a much bigger MCC in Chicago — in Lakeview, which we then called Boystown.  These five years were just as exhilarating and challenging, and the old Chicago machine was being challenged by some gutsy reformers.  Aware of racism among gay people, I endorsed Harold Washington and we held a rally for him at the church the Tuesday before the election.  Black ministers warned him to stay away and have nothing to do with “that gay gathering,” but he came and thrilled the packed house, and Washington narrowly won.  So you can imagine my delight a few months ago at the election of Lori Lightfoot as mayor of Chicago!  The ground beneath us is moving.

It was while I was at Good Shepherd MCC that members began getting diagnosed with a strange new disease, and dying.  I served on the institutional review board — really an ethics panel — for the gay clinic, Howard Brown Clinic, and we tried to grapple with the latest medical findings.

Illinois Masonic Hospital, right there in Boystown, set up an AIDS wing, with a hospice, where I visited way too many members, and where my ex and dear friend Evan died in 1988.

And another thing started to happen:  more conservative members starting complaining that I wasn’t really a Christian.  After the umpteenth time that somebody said “Jay, aren’t you really just a Unitarian anyway?”, I rang up Bart Gould, minister of Second Unitarian, just a block away from Good Shepherd, and said “Can we talk?”  What I learned was that I was guilty as charged, and on Pride Day 1982, I joined 2U.  By now I’d begun the process of transferring credentials.

So I had to undergo evaluation by one of these outfits that examines candidates for ministry for mental stability — those Centers for Ministry assessments.  I was sent to one at Garrett in Evanston where an unreconstructed Freudian characterized me as a “belligerent feminist,” and, noting my transition from Presbyterian to Assemblies of God to American Baptist to MCC to UU, worried that I was unstable.  Then came the interview in Boston.  Naturally I worried about the report from Evanston.  The MFC never mentioned it and gave me a “1.”  I was impressed.  My little sermonette was about how we all have to “come out” in our own way and that was much about what Unitarian Universalism represents.

I worked for a while as Acting Information Director after Carl Seaburg retired, for which I must thank Carl.  What a privilege — this newcomer in charge of the UUA archives, those yellowing files full of heroic stories that I found thrilling.  You wouldn’t even have to turn on the lights; those files glowed!  These were stories of heroes, some of them tragic stories of heroes.  It’s very hard to describe what a privilege that was.

The search for a pulpit wasn’t easy, and I felt that search committees must have spring-loaded mailboxes.  Then I was called to the Unitarian Church of Bangor.  A young gay member who had fled harassment in his small town came to the big city of Bangor hoping to find some acceptance and respect; he faced truly ugly treatment and hatred in Bangor.

A gay couple who rented him rooms faced similar treatment.  They found their dead cat on their front step, found their tires slashed, and the police wouldn’t help and showed utter contempt for them as a gay couple, and they couldn’t put their house on the market.

Then Charlie was murdered on his way home from the Unitarian Church, where he was a member and was beloved.  This was 1984, and as he walked home, three Bangor High School students spotted him and jumped out of their car and chased him down, and threw him over the high stone bulkhead into the Kenduskeag Stream that runs through the downtown, and his body was carried away.

Now, in 1985, we were conducting a memorial service on the first anniversary of his death.  Maine Public Radio carried our service, and afterwards we all walked silently to the Kenduskeag Stream as the bells tolled from the Unitarian steeple.  Silently we threw flowers into the stream and the powerful tide carried them away.  A couple of UCC ministers from Bangor Seminary joined us, but nobody from the city government and no other clergy except for Laurel Sheridan, the Interim at the Universalist congregation — whose minister the year before, when Charlie was murdered, would not participate in the original memorial service.

Charlie’s memorial service was a pivotal day for a lot of people who told me their stories.  One couple walking to the first memorial service saw the TV trucks.  One said no, I can’t be seen there.  The other said we must be there; we must be seen there — and that was the day they broke up.

This is the editorial in The Bangor Daily News.  “NOT A MARTYR.  We all know that it’s wrong to kill people, but he did bring it on himself by his effeminate ways.”  I was pretty steamed, and I stormed into the editor’s office with a response, which he did print.  BUT when marriage equality was on the ballot in Maine, The Bangor Daily News ran an editorial in favor of marriage equality, and it brought tears to my eyes.  The earth is indeed moving beneath us.

From Bangor I took the position of Director of OLGC, with the specific task of assessing UU response to queer people.  I organized the Common Vision Planning Committee — and ran a big survey of UU membership.  There were about 3,000 responses; Helen Bishop tabulated the findings which appeared in the Common Vision Report.  The UU Trustees were stunned by the nasty attitudes this turned up.  There are a lot of quotes, and you really ought to take a look at the quotes because they will appall you; you’d be surprised.  This teaches us the lesson that you can change a culture — you can create a new culture, because it isn’t like that any more.  And not only that, we profoundly affected the religious culture outside our own walls.

So we designed the Welcoming Congregation Program, but while this was going on we found we’d been zeroed out of the budget by the Board of Trustees.  So I made sure our motion to adopt the Welcoming Congregation Program and to continue the office was drafted as a Business Resolution, which meant that it had a stronger mandate and was not subject to the Trustees’ budget priorities.  It passed by a margin something like 2000-25.

At the UUA, my office overlooked Governor Dukakis’s office in the Massachusetts State House, where I spent time arguing for passage of basic civil rights legislation during 1986-89, and what was happening was that the legislature would pass it, and Senate President Billy Bulger (brother of gangster Whitey Bulger) would send the bill to the Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, the point of which was never to meet.  So I was part of a civil disobedience when we disrupted the Senate session.  Bulger’s Senate Police threw some of us around and I still have a knee injury from that episode.  But in the next session the bill passed and made it to Gov.  Dukakis’ desk.  He signed it into law in 1989.

We did a lot of demonstrations in front of the State House for marriage equality.  Some activists thought we shouldn’t push such an extreme position on marriage and scare people, but my argument was that it moved the center of gravity for the debate in our direction.  A state Supreme Court decision forced the legislature to pass it in 2004, and Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage.

In 1987 our office coordinated UU participation in the March on Washington to protest the Supreme Court decision in Hardwick v.  Bowers.  UUs came from all over the country.  We held a pre-march worship service at All Souls, then shared a circle dance led by Starhawk, and then the protest.  Eight hundred of us were arrested, and we were handled by court personnel wearing rubber gloves.

But the permanent job had been promised to somebody else, so I went into search, and now I really felt the spring-loaded-mailbox phenomenon.  For a couple of years, no response from search committees, at least until the UU Church in Oak Park, IL search committee specifically asked for my packet.  The chair told me the Settlement Director told them “I don’t think he’s your man,” to which the chair of the Search Committee responded “Oh, we think he might be our man,” and I had ten of the best years of my life at the new congregation I led into a consolidation with Beacon Unitarian Church, of blessed memory, once served by Barbara Pescan and Anne Tyndall! — Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation, at the magical building designed by a young member, Frank Lloyd Wright.

At Unity Temple, a longtime member took me aside after I’d done a Pride service.  He’d been an engaged member for two, three, or four years, but considered himself a good old Chicago leftist, a long tradition there.  As such he hadn’t understood the gay moment and was very uncomfortable about it and with my being there.  But he kept coming, and listening.  I think my evangelistic attitude toward the spiritual and religious significance of UUism and the inclusion of sexual minorities had got through to him.  He wanted me to know I had won him over.  That was one of those moments you never forget.

I’d arranged for a sabbatical working with the British Unitarians, but as the date approached, I learned that the churches I was to serve, in Yorkshire, had refused to accept “an American homosexual.”  The leader of the congregations apologized profusely, and Jeff Teagle, the Executive Secretary of the denomination, found me two other ministries — three months each in Aberdeen and then at Golders Green, London.  Meanwhile, the British Unitarians were coming around to our side very quickly.  The British Unitarians today are outspoken advocates for queer people, and they always march in London’s giant Pride parade.

It was while I was minister at the UU Society of Northampton and Florence (MA)  — from 2002 to 2006 — that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that marriage had to be opened to same-sex couples, and the legislature legalized it in 2004.

In the meantime, I wrote a piece in The Daily Hampshire Gazette announcing that I wouldn’t sign marriage licenses until I could sign them for same-sex couples, and that it was absurd that I could sign a license that no one could sign for me.  I said that I’d still do weddings, but you’d have to have a civil authority sign the form, which is who should be signing legal marriage forms anyway, not clergy.  (What are ministers doing being agents of the state?)   I was interviewed about this on a little Northampton radio station, WRSI, whose studios were in a basement under an art supply store across the street from the church.  The interviewer was Rachel Maddow, not yet discovered by Air America Radio or MSNBC.

On the first day of same-sex legal marriage, I married two women who were members of the Northampton congregation at the Smith College waterfall where they first kissed.  They’d already had a big union ceremony so this time it was just the two of them, their little girl, and me.  And the waterfall, and the marriage license.  There were lots more, and quite a few had already had ceremonies, so some of these were much more intimate, with the main attraction the signed marriage license.

After a couple of interim ministries and two years as contract minister in Manchester, N.H., I was called in 2012 to Channing Memorial Church in Newport, R.I.  where I served through 2016.

In Rhode Island, the Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed represented Newport, and she was a devout Catholic who had never allowed marriage equality to come to a vote, despite years and years of work by the community in Rhode Island.  She refused to meet with activists to talk about it, but she met with me and three members of the congregation, and she agreed to allow a vote.  And the bill passed on Feb.  5, 2013.

And let me say this about Newport.  There were two distinct factions there, and the progressive core had done something magnificent before I was even there.  The opposition was led by a wealthy donor who had Googled me and found a column I’d written for the Northampton newspaper critical of Joseph Ratzinger when he became Pope Benedict, in which I warned that Ratzinger was very bad news indeed, particularly for the gay community.  He fought me to the end.  He’d fought the rainbow sign out front, too.

But among the progressive majority was Pam Goff, who had organized an annual Prom for gay and lesbian and bi and trans high school students, conducted by Channing Church.  At first they used the Police Union hall, and while I was there, we moved the Prom to the City of Newport’s oceanfront Rotunda and Carousel.  Some of the kids came on buses from Providence.  The more conservative members didn’t dare argue publicly that we shouldn’t be doing it, but their views were pretty clear.  BUT this past Spring brought the tenth annual Prom.

So it’s always a soap-opera.  As someone wise once said, a minister has always got to keep one suitcase packed.

And that brings us to Meg, so let me turn it over to Meg right here.

 

After Meg Riley made her presentation, Jay concluded with the following statement:

 

What a brilliant and beautiful story!

Look, here really is my point.  What this religious and spiritual movement is about is the evolution of consciousness and culture.  And how is this universe aware of itself, except in you and me, the human presence, our human consciousness, so far as we know the universe’s highest achievement?  When you awaken, the universe awakens.  I know something about the evolution of consciousness because I underwent it and shared with many others who did, too.

We’re way less original than we sometimes like to think we are.  We are contained in a culture and we’re part of it, a culture or cultures that are bigger than we are and that shape us.  Meg spoke of her disappointment when her political hero Paul Wellstone opposed marriage equality.  I can be forgiving of historical figures whose better instincts were overridden by the force of that culture.

But we have all participated in the creation of a new culture.  And I’m not much of a theist, but somewhere at the heart of things there is an intelligence and an energy and, I think, a purpose that draws us forward to higher human possibility, and I think we’ve got to never forget that that is what this religious movement is about.  Because religion is either a lock on an outmoded past, or it’s an engine of evolution.  It’s always one or the other, and just observe the Religious Right if you want to see the other facet of religion.

The UU spiritual movement bears witness to higher human possibility, and a culture that could and did evolve beyond the narrowness of the world in which the Apostle Paul lived, the world of the Levitical Holiness Code, the world of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, the world of Franklin Graham and Mike Pence.  An amazing thing.  Freeing people from the presumptive authority of ancient scriptures and enfolding them in a community that honored their humanity, believing in them, and standing by them.

So all I really want to say in conclusion is that this spiritual movement, once again, is about the evolution of consciousness and therefore of culture.  And I think we feel the draw and the depth of it toward higher human possibility.

The ground is moving beneath us; everything is in motion.  It’s as though you wake up in a moving car plummeting forward and, through your awakening eyes, you see that nobody is at the wheel.  Take it!  The future is in our hands.

Kay Greenleaf (1939 – 2018)

Offered by Cathie Severance; Researched by the UUMA
UURMaPA Conference, February and October, 2019

Kay Greenleaf was born on December 23, 1939 in Orlando, FL to parents Richard and Helen.  She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from Indiana’s Ball State University in 1962, following which she worked in many fields including high school drama, criminology, and social work.  Later in life, after experiencing a call to ministry, Kay earned her Master of Divinity in 1996 from Methodist Theological School in Ohio.

She was ordained on April 20, 1997 by the First UU Church of Columbus, OH.  She served for a year as consulting minister to the UU Fellowship of Morgantown, WV, following which she served the UU Congregation East in Reynoldsburg, OH until late 1998.  She was then called to the UU Fellowship of Poughkeepsie, NY, where she served until her retirement in 2009.  The Poughkeepsie fellowship later elected Kay their Minister Emerita.

Kay was active in the denomination, belonging to the Ohio-Meadville Chapter of the UU Ministers’ Association, the Ministerial Sisterhood, and UU Revival, among other organizations.  Prior to her ordination, Kay performed much supply preaching at UU congregations, and served on many congregational boards and committees — especially at First UU Columbus, where she was always eager to share her wisdom and lend a hand.

Social justice was one of Kay’s great passions throughout her life.  She was a staunch advocate for adequate welfare and health care systems, and most especially for civil rights — especially for people of color and LGBT people.  In 2004, after the Mayor of New Paltz, NY was prohibited from performing same-sex marriages, Kay volunteered to continue the marriages.  She enlisted UU ministers and clergy from other denominations to help marry about 100 same-sex couples over the next several months; she and a UU colleague were arrested for this work and the charges were eventually dismissed.  Kay once wrote, “Ending racism, sexism, heterosexism, and ableism is critical to making the world spiritually richer and more humane.”

Kay loved language and words.  She began writing as a child and continued writing poetry, short stories, and sermons — though she never published.  She carried a note pad with her, ready to write when she saw something that touched her.  Kay also enjoyed raising, training, and showing dogs; collecting works of art; nature and wildlife photography; folk, classical, and opera music; and birding.

Kay died January 19, 2018, survived by her wife of 31 years, Pat Sullivan, and their beloved pets.  Pat says of her:  “Kay took people at face value and always saw the good in them.”

Kim K Crawford Harvie

What in your ministry should be part of the queer history of our faith?

Rev. Kim K. Crawford Harvie
Arlington Street Church

I’ve been thinking about how many secrets I’ve kept about our queer colleagues of blessed memory — those who were (almost always rightfully) terrified to live out loud.  I wish they had lived to see this day, this gathering.

It’s a beautiful question: What in your ministry should be part of the queer history of our faith? You asked for one or two things: I think of three, though I promise to be very brief.

First, a deep bow to the sex-positive, spirit-filled OWL, which was piloted at First Parish in Concord on my 12-year-old “Sunday school” classmates and me as AYS — About Your Sexuality. My coming out as a lesbian was about as earthshaking for me as saying I was headed for the amusement park. No shame; just joy. And among those in the generations ahead of me who heard my news, the larger embrace of Unitarian Universalism’s first principle held fast — a moral compass point, that flame in the chalice. I know some wrestled privately with their demons, but they knew the onus was on them, and they never stopped loving me.

Second, there was Unitarian Universalism’s response to the AIDS crisis. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d had to deal with the fear of G*d that so undid my colleagues of other faith traditions. When I was serving in Provincetown, the parish priest had a young man living with him — his lover. But he invoked his god’s wrath at any variation on Adam and Eve, preached vividly about the eternal fires of hell, and refused to perform the funeral of anyone who had died with AIDS.

I should add that neither, by the way, would he welcome to his pews anyone who was divorced. When, in my first days in Provincetown, a fishing boat sank with four divorced men on board, the families came to me to ask me to perform the memorial service.

And so the queer community as well as Portuguese families began to attend the Meeting House. And then the queer children of those Portuguese families came home, and there was peace once again.

And third, there was the place of Unitarian Universalism at the heart of the movement for marriage equality. Our Association staff at 25 Beacon Street hung a huge banner from the 6th-floor balconies on the wall facing the State House, announcing that marriage equality was a civil right. No one was surprised that the first legal same-sex marriage in a church in this country was in a Unitarian Universalist church! And two month’s later, Boston’s Pride parade featured city blocks full of delegations from our congregations across the region — perhaps the biggest banner parade in our history. Local news called it a Unitarian Universalist Pride march.

Finally, in anticipation of speaking to the question, “Tell us about the AIDS years,” here is just one glimpse:
I’m remembering my Provincetown parishioner, Paul Richards.

Paul was a big, blonde, boyish Midwesterner with the energy and exuberance of a Labrador Retriever. On his own initiative, with his Baptist heart, Paul recruited new members to the Meeting House by inviting groups of six friends at a time to Sunday brunch in his home. The hitch was that the invitation started with the church service from 11-12; if you planned to eat, you had to meet Paul in his pew. He was shameless; he was charming.

One late summer Sunday afternoon, the last wedding party of the day was being photographed on the front lawn under a cloudless sky. Paul popped in and said, “My boat’s at the pier – Let’s go!”

I could see the Kaposi’s sarcoma erupting on his left calf. I was exhausted, but I went.

Paul motored way, way out into the bay, until the leaning steeple of the church took its place in Provincetown’s silhouette on the horizon. He threw the anchor and we sat there, in silence. From a distance, the dying and death, loss and grieving all took their place. Then Paul said to me, “Listen. In all this madness, even if it kills every single one of us and there’s no one left to tell the stories, it matters that we love each other well.”

Among the many lessons of the plague, I cherish this: Sometimes, if we’re very lucky, someone shakes us awake and reminds us to pay attention in this very moment. Paul Richards, ¡presente!

Thank you, my friends.

© Rev. Kim K. Crawford Harvie, Arlington Street Church, Boston, 2019

Personal Reflections – Brendan Hadash

Offered at UURMaPA Conference, October, 2019

In January 1982, I began my extension ministry in North Hatley, Quebec, and West Burke and Derby Line, Vermont.  I considered myself in the closet with the door open.  If anyone asked, I promised to myself that I would speak honestly and openly.  This is the most conservative part of Vermont, so I was discreet.  The only “gay” activity I did at the church was running a monthly potluck for gay men.  In 1983, Alan (now my husband), came to the potluck and we have been together for 36 years.  We attended the 1984 General Assembly where civil unions were approved.  I was so proud of my denomination.  Alan and I immediately asked Rev.  Deane Starr, our district executive, to perform our ceremony.

On March 31, 1985 we were the first gay male couple in Vermont to have a wedding officially sanctioned by a denomination.  We tried to keep the ceremony secret, but word got out.  Someone in the church complained to the District Executive, but since he had performed the ceremony he explained that this was denominational policy.  The wedding did not seem to affect my ministry in any substantial way.

In June 1986, my extension ministry ended successfully and I entered the search process.  In those days many UU congregations would not call a gay minister and with a male spouse, being gay was impossible to conceal.  Eventually I left the ministry because after over a year of searching, there were no prospects.

In 1994, someone from the St.  Johnsbury church (with only 3 members), knowing that I had been an ordained UU minister, contacted me and asked if there was anything I could do to save the church.  I eventually was called as their minister.

About this time I became active in the struggle for gay marriage.  In 1995 the local (extremely conservative) newspaper asked to interview me about my activism.  After a short internal struggle, I remembered that being in the closet with the door open meant that I would answer any questions openly.  On May 31, 1995 there was a full page spread in the paper with pictures.  This time being openly gay became an asset, as several gays and lesbians joined the church.

When the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task force needed an amicus brief from religious leaders in Vermont supporting the right to marry, I helped organize VOWS (Vermont Organization for Weddings of the Same Gender).  This organization eventually included 42 religious leaders from 6 denominations, including all the UU ministers in Vermont.  Many UUs helped work toward civil unions and same sex marriage.

Right after Civil Unions were passed, Alan and I were wed on July 5, 2000.  I am pretty sure I am the first gay minister to be legally wed in the U.S.  Of course, when gay marriage became legal, Alan and I got married for the third time.

When I started my ministry as a closeted gay man in 1982, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be legally married.  I am proud of the small role I played and my denomination played in making that possible.

Robert P. Wheatly

Rev. Robert P. Wheatly (1919 – 2002)

Offered by David Hunter
UURMaPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

The Rev. Robert P. Wheatly died in 2002 at the age of 83.  He was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Jacksonville, Florida.  I don’t know anything about his childhood or his religious upbringing, but he was ordained by the Disciples of Christ in 1941 and worked at a Disciples church in 1942 and 43, in what capacity I don’t know.  He joined the Air Force in 1943 and was stationed in Alaska until he left the military in 1946.  While in the Air Force, in 1945, he became a Unitarian.  I don’t know what led to that conversion or what it meant, theologically or institutionally.  After he left the Air Force he went to college — or perhaps he returned to college — earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stetson University, in Florida, in 1948.  From 1949 until 1955, without any formal theological education that I’m aware of, he served Unitarian churches in Westboro, Massachusetts; Lawrence, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Jacksonville, Florida.

In 1955 he left the ministry, and for the 1955-56 academic year he taught at the Fenn School for Boys, in Concord, Massachusetts.  For the next eleven years he held positions in the business world.  Then in the mid-1960s his call to ministry resurfaced and he studied at the Harvard Divinity School.  But after a time at Harvard he transferred to the Crane School of Religion at Tufts University, an historically Universalist seminary, from which he received his Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1968, the year that Crane closed.

Next for Bob Wheatly was the MFC.  They turned him down.  Students at Crane were shocked; they agreed, Doug Gallager, a Crane student at the time, reports, that Wheatly was “the very model of a solid minister.”  Was he rejected because he was gay?  He wouldn’t talk about it.  “He flat out refused to tell what happened,” according to Gallager.

From 1967 until 1972 he held a number of positions, including credit and collection for Beth Israel Hospital (1967-1971); field supervisor for the U.S.  Census (1970); and fund raiser for the Arlington Street Church (1971).  From 1973-1977 he was Executive Director for the Cambridge Council on Aging.

From 1977 until his retirement in 1987, Wheatly worked for the UUA, primarily as director of the Office of Gay and Lesbian Concerns.  In 1979, the MFC, apparently recognizing the mistake they had made a decade earlier, granted Wheatly preliminary fellowship, and for a time he served the UU Church of Medford, Massachusetts.

To summarize his life work in a few words, Wheatly was an outspoken advocate for gay and lesbian rights.

Bob was survived by his life partner, Kenneth English.  When Bob had his heart attack, they were both at home, and when the ambulance came — this was in 2002 — Kenneth wasn’t permitted to ride with Bob.  And Mt Auburn Hospital shut Kenneth out entirely from medical decisions.  Bob died, and Kenneth was treated as though he had no special relationship with Bob.

Newell Deane Starr

Newell Deane Starr (1923 – 1996)

Offered by Rev. Arthur Severance
UURMaPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

Writes John Buehrens:  Deane Starr was raised in Michigan in the Church of the Nazarene.  He subsequently became a Methodist and then a Universalist.  He served churches in Medford, Sherborn, Acton, and Harvard, MA.  Soon after merger, he became a District Executive in the Chicago area.  During the latter part of the UUA Presidency of Dana Greeley, Starr was the Vice President for Field Services.  He was one of the nine candidates to succeed Greeley in 1969 and came in second to Robert Nelson West.

He then became Minister of the Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ, succeeding Jacob Trapp.  In about 1974 or 75, Deane separated from his wife Wilma, with whom he had six children, and came out as a gay man.  Since, according to Jim Hobart, “at that time coming out was the equivalent of deciding to leave the ministry,” Deane left the ministry for a time, but then returned as District Executive for Vermont/New Hampshire.  His daughter Susan Starr, now also deceased, graduated from Starr King School for the Ministry and was also in fellowship, primarily as a community minister.

Rev. Newell Deane Starr died of AIDS on Saturday, November 16, 1996.  He was 73 years of age.  His service was held at Arlington Street Church, officiated by Gene Navias.

Nancy Crumbine wrote:  Deane was District Executive of New Hampshire/Vermont when I approached the possibility of UU ministry.  He is singlehandedly responsible for my pursuing it, and was an immense support to me and to our congregation until he died.  He was a great, great soul.  Brilliant, generous and kind.  A great wit.

Writes Steve EdingtonI knew Deane Starr from when I began my ministry with the UU Church of Nashua, NH, in 1988 — a ministry that lasted for 24 years.  Deane was the District Executive for what was then the New Hampshire/Vermont District.  He became a friend and mentor during the early days of  my Nashua ministry.  I always appreciated his kindness and counsel.  He courageously came out as a gay man (while in a heterosexual marriage) when that was still not an entirely safe thing to do — even in UU circles.

Jim Hobart wrote:  (When) I came to my first ministry in Upton, MA, I saw Deane regularly at district meetings and district ministers’ meetings.  As a young and inexperienced minister, I found Deane a source of wisdom regarding ministry, a dynamic preacher, and a “leader” whether or not he had the official title.  He was also a genuinely authentic and caring person.

Nancy Doughty wrote:  Deane Starr — so many recollections of him!  First, as husband and father to a large family that I met at Ferry Beach where we were on staff together.  I regularly saw him at ministers’ meetings, then in about 1982-3 we were both Ministerial Settlement Reps.  There was a gathering of all the reps for a workshop on the sensitive issue of bringing ministerial lists to congregations that might include gays.  During the workshop (where only 2 of us were women among all the men), one of Deane’s male colleagues outed him.  I know I was shocked… at least Deane reported back to me my face revealed that.  But after the workshop ended I gave him a big hug.  I know for some time he did not have a settlement, but worked for Kelly Association doing clerical work, even being assigned to some UU organization on one occasion, whereupon he was asked, “What are you doing here?”

After losing his son Paul to AIDS, Deane was bereft.  A year after Paul’s death, Deane took a short boat cruise off the west coast of Naples, FL.  Here is how he described the experience:  “The entire sky, from horizon to horizon, was aglow with colors — reds, purples, pinks and golds.  Then the colors faded and the deep indescribable deep, deep indigo of late twilight filled the sky.  Then the boat turned around, and on the eastern horizon was a full and glorious moon.  With tears streaming down my face, I realized that although my son’s being had been scattered, he remained a part of this awesome beauty.  We can never contain the beauty in which we live and move and have our being.  But whether we live or whether we die, we are contained within this beauty.”

TEN SUGGESTIONS FOR A HEALTHY CONGREGATION
Deane Starr

  1. Always be kind to one another, even if you think meanness is justified.
  2. Always attribute the best possible motives to one another, even when you do not understand one another’s words and actions.
  3. Promise to one another only what you really intend and are capable of delivering.
  4. Laugh and cry together, sharing both your joys and heartaches.
  5. Be very quick to praise one another, and very slow to criticize.
  6. Defend one another, but avoid being defensive.
  7. Accept one another’s gifts with gratitude; accept one another’s deficiencies with grace.
  8. Do not tell one another how to feel.  Remember that feelings are facts, and treat them accordingly.
  9. Greet each new day with expectation and each hour of rest with thanksgiving.
  10. Let your eyes light up when you come into one another’s presence.

 

Robert L. Hadley (1928 – 2012)

Offered by Rev.  David Hunter
UURMaPA Conferences February and October, 2019

Rev. Robert L. Hadley died in 2012, at the age of 84.  Hadley was born in Leominster, Massachusetts.  He graduated from Yale University in 1950.  He went on to attain a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Harvard Divinity School in 1956 and, 21 years later, a Master of Sacred Theology from Boston University School of Theology.

He was ordained in 1956 by the First Congregational Society in Leominster, Massachusetts, a Unitarian congregation.  For the next 31 years he was the minister for the First Church Unitarian in Littleton, Massachusetts.  Then, from 1987 to 1991, he served as minister of the Maumee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Perrysburg, Ohio, and from 1991 to 1994, he served as minister of the Universalist Meeting House in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  Lastly, he served as minister of the First Parish Church in Fitchburg, Massachusetts from 1995 until his retirement in 2002.

Scott Alexander wrote recently that “Bob was serving our congregation in Pittsfield, Massachusetts when he came out as a gay man.  He later moved to Provincetown to serve the Universalist Meetinghouse, and was my minister for several years there.  He met his partner (Jimmy Sullivan) there, and after his retirement they moved to Fort Lauderdale.”  However, neither the church history of the Pittsfield UU Church website nor the UURMaPA obituary of Hadley mentions his having any time of service to the Pittsfield church.

Committed to the denomination, Bob served as:  a member of the UUMA’s Member Insurance Committee from 1974-1977; a Ministerial Settlement Representative in the Massachusetts Central District from 1982-1985; and a member of the UUA AIDS Task Force from 1985-1986.

Throughout his life, he was also heavily involved in his communities.  He served as president of the Central Middlesex Mental Health Association from 1974-1977.  He was also a founding member of the Emerson Hospital Hospice, and served on its board from 1978-1981.

Those who knew Bob remember his love of nature and his passion for restoration.  He restored the gardens around a housing complex in which he lived during Hurricane Wilma.  He and Jimmy took on all of the costs and labor themselves, as well as the upkeep afterwards.  They also restored a historic, landmark house and garden in Provincetown.  Bob once referred to his garden as “an expression of God.”

Dorothy M Emerson

Dorothy M.  Emerson (1943 – 2019)

Offered by Marni Harmony, Written by Dee Graham
UURMaPA Conference, October, 2019

When Dorothy Emerson launched her life as an adult, it was with an awareness of her identity as someone who had a mission in life.  She long felt called to some vocation involving religion because those who inspired her most were ministers.

The privilege she recognized in her early life gave her a call to help others, an awareness that grew as she came to understand how a person’s body of work both influenced and was influenced by culture change.  These ideas were foundational for her own life’s work.[1]

Coming out and into Unitarian Universalism in Austin, Texas, Dorothy went to the 1983 General Assembly in Vancouver, BC, where she felt shocked to find no mention of lesbians at the Women’s Federation biennial.

She recalled, “A straight friend, musician/song writer Carolyn McDade, and I organized a spontaneous workshop we called ‘The Lesbians Among Us and the Lesbian Within Us.’  Quite a few women participated, partly because Carolyn was well-known for her music ministry to women.  The group concluded that UUWF needed to develop a program to address homophobia, provide visibility, and encourage acceptance of lesbians in local congregations, especially in women’s groups.  A curriculum writer was hired and I served as a consultant, but I don’t think the curriculum was ever finished or published.”

That launched Dorothy’s collaborative leadership in opening doors to culture change among us, facing down patriarchal assumptions, heterosexual norms and exclusion of the queer community, as well as broadening her work into anti-racism and classism awareness in the UU movement.

At the 1984 GA, Dorothy said, “I encountered the UU Gay Caucus, a group of primarily gay men.  At this point in the wider gay movement, lesbians were often invisible.  In 1977, the GA had passed the Women and Religion resolution, calling for all UUs to address the roots of sex-role stereotypes in religion, to change sexist ideas and language, and to establish equity for women in ministry and lay leadership.  …The process of implementing this culture-changing resolution had not yet penetrated the early UU gay movement.”

That year, GA affirmed services of union for same sex couples, showing Dorothy “an unanticipated response that delighted us lesbians.  That evening at the scheduled dance, for the first time at GA, same sex couples danced together.  We got a few uncomfortable glances from some folks, but by and large it was a joyous occasion, the beginning of significant culture change in the UU faith community.”

A graduate of Harvard Divinity School with a Doctor of Ministry from Andover Newton, Dorothy has colored our UU rainbow by initiating lesbian leadership in the UU Gay Caucus beginning with the 1985 Convo, by becoming treasurer of the secretive Lambda Ministers Guild about that same year and organizing a meeting at Unity Temple in Chicago.  She participated in the early foundations of what became the Welcoming Congregation program culminating in the 1989 resolution and curriculum.

Donna Clifford, Dorothy’s spouse, and she participated in SMUUGLE, Southeast Massachusetts UU Gays, Lesbians, Etc.  Candidating as an openly lesbian minister since 1988 made her search challenging, as congregations told her they wanted a minister who “shared their values.”  So she founded the UU Women’s Heritage Society and joined the Black Concerns Working Group and the first district Anti-Racism Transformation Team.

With the Rev. Dee Graham and the Rev. Gene Navias, Dorothy co-created and facilitated “Becoming a Welcoming Religious Education Program” for the 1999 fall conference of the Liberal Religious Educators Association.  The following year LREDA became the first UU Welcoming Organization.

Beyond her resumé of contributions, which you can read elsewhere, what truly makes Dorothy Emerson a clergy pioneer of the rainbow comes from her recognition of lesbian culture as a real entity, a pivotal force of community that has the power to strengthen and further bind the ties of LOVE that drive Unitarian Universalism.

For that, she embraced and promoted all of the cultures of the rainbow — gay, bisexual, transgender and gender fluidity and more; disabilities; racial identity; financial and class status — embodying new awareness with the work of inclusion.

And then she looked deeper, spearheading denominational work that she intended would build a more just faith community with the prayer of service for making ours a better, more meaningful world.

Even in retirement, she stepped into this Rainbow Project with fervor and precision, an attention to detail that lives beyond her, as we gather today to continue the culture change that has only just begun.

RESUME: DOROTHY MAY EMERSON

1971-1974:  Humanistic Psychology Institute, San Fransicso, CA — Master of Arts in Psychology and Education

1984-1988:  Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA — Master of Divinity

1991-1997:  Andover Newton Theological School, Newton, MA — Doctor of Ministry

1992-1998:  Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, MA
Minister:

  • Provided inspirational leadership for congregation and community.
  • Planned and presented numerous educational programs.
  • Helped establish Friends of the Mystic River and Community Cupboard Food Pantry.

1998-2002:  Social Investment Forum and First Affirmative Financial Network
Participated in annual conferences on socially responsible investing

1998-2019:  Rainbow Solutions:  Financial and Educational Services, Medford, MA
Consulting:

  • Created adult curriculum on economic justice.
  • Produced PowerPoint presentation and video on Women’s Rights.
  • Consulted with Promise Massachusetts Children, Inc.
  • Designed and taught community education classes on socially responsible investing.
  • Created seminar series on “Money and Empowerment.”

1990-2019:  Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society, Boston, MA
Executive Director:

  • Edited anthology of women’s writings on social reform
  • Created traveling exhibit of Unitarian Universalist women.
  • Managed organizational development and programs.

COMMUNITY SERVICE

Mass Bay District Anti-Racism Transformation Team

Medford Interfaith Clergy Association President

Wakefield Interfaith Clergy Association Coordinator of Community Cable TV Program, “Conversations with Wakefield Clergy”

PUBLISHED WRITINGS

Sea Change:  the unfinished agenda of the 1960s (Boston, MA, Matrika Press, 2018)

Glorious Women:  Award-Winning Sermons About Women, (Bloomington, IN, iUniverse, 2004)

“Creating a Just Economic Community,” six-session adult curriculum on economic justice (Boston, MA: Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community, 2001)

Standing Before Us:  Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776 – 1936 (Boston, MA, Skinner House, 2000)

“Anti-Racism as Spiritual Practice,” in Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life (Boston, MA, Skinner House, 1999)

A Matter of Preference: A Book About the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (4th edition, Providence, RI, New Directions, 1986)

“Sexism and Peacemaking,” sections on UU history and peace action for adult curriculum (Philadelphia, PA, Unitarian Universalist Peace Network, 1984)

Khan Du! Learning Resource Guide and curriculum manuals for children, teenagers, families, and teachers, created to accompany public television series on career education for children with disabilities  (Austin, TX: KLRN-TV, 1978)

[1] Emerson, Dorothy, Sea Change: the unfinished agenda of the 1960s, April 2018

Rosemarie Carnarius

Rosemarie Carnarius (1938-2015)

Offered by Rev. Barbara Child
UURMaPA Conferences February and October, 2019

It is my honor to share with you a little about Rev. Rosemarie Carnarius.  I’m sorry that I never had a chance to know her, but I think of us as kindred spirits since we were born in the same year, 1938.  She was born on November 27 of that year in Leipzig, Germany.  She died October 10, 2015, in Tucson, Arizona.  She was on this earth for 76 years.

Rosemarie grew up as a wartime child in what would become East Germany after 1945.  She lived under Fascism and then under Communism.  No wonder she developed an early and passionate commitment to human rights, self-determination, and peace with justice.

She was politically jeopardized by her own anti-Communist activity while still a teenager.  At 17, knowing that her very life depended on it, she escaped one early August morning to Stuttgart, West Germany.  Unbelievably, she returned over the next two years for two brief visits with her ailing mother, ending with a wild ride through Leipzig with a truckload of soldiers in pursuit.  A suddenly appearing streetcar blocked the large truck but allowed the smaller, faster car and its passengers to proceed.

A few years later she married Roderick Carnarius, and they came to the United States in 1960.  They raised their two children in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Eventually she became active in the UU congregation of Trenton, New Jersey.

In 1984, with her children grown, her marriage ended in divorce.  She moved to the American Southwest, the beauty of which had long captured her imagination.  She soon involved herself in the life of the UU Church of Tucson, and there her gifts were quickly recognized.  She was invited to preach, and then she served as the Director of Religious Education.  After people kept asking why she wasn’t a minister, eventually she went to study at Starr King School, earning her M.Div.  in  1991.

Rosemarie was ordained by the Unitarian Church of the Monterey Peninsula in Carmel, California, in 1992.  In September of that year, at the invitation of the German Unitarians, she embarked on an emotion-filled return as a minister and goodwill ambassador to the country of her birth.  She spent two months traveling through a now reunited Germany and preaching at over 40 churches.  She said of this experience later that it “was one of the most important and vibrant ministries of my life.  I realized during those travels how much I treasure being an emissary of the heart and a participant in international and interfaith dialogue.”

Back in the U.S., she served an interim ministry to the UU Church of Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1993-94 and was then called to the UU Church of Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she served 1994-96.  It was there that she met Aston Bloom, who would become her soul mate and life partner for the last two decades of her life.  When I spoke with some colleagues who had been at Starr King School at the same time as Rosemarie, they spoke highly of her but were surprised to hear that we intended to include Rosemarie among the ministers we planned to honor as Stonewall pioneers.  The Starr Kingers said they did not know that Rosemarie was a lesbian.

This fall I had a wonderful phone conversation with Aston Bloom, and I asked her about this.  Frankly, I was wondering whether Rosemarie was in the closet, and truly not a pioneer.  But Aston assured me that after their partnership began in Tucson in 1997, everyone at the Tucson church knew that Rosemarie and Aston were partners.  To honor the significance of her relationship with Aston, Rosemarie published her books under the name “Partnership Publishing.”

As it happened, multiple complications from unsuccessful hip surgery in 1997 reduced Rosemarie’s mobility and disrupted her life.  They did not crush her spirit, however.  Many years earlier she had come to see writing as central to her mission in life.  Despite excruciating pain, she continued to write.  Ten books are her legacy:  five non-fiction books on the need for personal and societal transformation, highlighting such issues as universal human rights, the environment, international relations, materialism, militarism, and, above all, peace with justice in the Middle East.  Her other five books contain her poetry celebrating life, love, nature and beauty.

Rosemarie moved back to Tucson with Aston in 1998.  Rosemarie served as Minister in Association at the Tucson church 1999-2002 and was able to assume limited professional work.  After 9/11, she started a dialogue group called “Inside Out,” which focused on the Middle East.  The group met for 11 years in the home she and Aston shared.  She was a prolific letter writer to both government officials and editors.  Even her forced confinement to bed in 2014 did not stop her speaking up and out on social and political issues.

A couple of years after Rosemarie’s death, Rep.  Pamela Powers Hannley wrote an article in the Arizona Daily Star about a book by Rosemarie called Envisioning a New World in which Rosemarie proposed consciously balancing yin (responsibility) and yang (liberty) in public policy.  She was writing about this country when it was new, when the Declaration of Independence was new, and Rep. Hannley lifted up Rosemarie’s particular attention to balance.  Her message seems to me just as apt today.  She wrote of “two values essential for a vibrant and congenial community: liberty and responsibility, I and We.”

I close with words from the booklet given to people who attended Rosemarie’s Celebration of Life.  This booklet turned out to be a wonderful source of information for me, as well as containing a beautiful collection of pictures.  “The way Rosemarie lived her life and walked this earth can teach us much.  It can show us how to be a more self-aware, inquisitive, appreciative person; how to remain true to oneself and one’s calling; how to seize the day with passion and perseverance, living fully and courageously despite setbacks and losses.  We celebrate her resourceful, adaptable, vigorous, and ever-creative spirit and give thanks for the energy and integrity with which she blessed lives and enriched our world.”

Rosemarie’s books on Amazon

Equal Marriage Statement Prepared for The Massachusetts State Legislature Hearing on Same-Sex Marriage

by the Rev. Eugene B. Navias
Associate Minister Emeritus, Arlington Street Church, Boston

October 23, 2003

I am the Rev. Eugene Navias, a retired minister.  I am seventy five years old.  I have been an ordained minister for fifty-two years.  And I am gay.

My long term partner, Stanley, died of cancer and as he wished, he died in our home and in my arms.

I know a lot from personal experience about the lack of equal rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual couples.

In these precious minutes, I will tell you about what happened to my ministerial colleague and friend, the Rev. Robert Wheatley.  Nine months ago at 83, Bob had a massive heart attack in the night and was dead on arrival when the ambulance brought him and his partner, Kenneth, to Mount Auburn Hospital.

“Who are you?,” the hospital demanded when Kenneth presented himself.  “I’m his life partner,” Kenneth said.  “You have no status,” they told him.  “We need the name of a relative to identify him and give us directions for what to do with his body.”

“I’ve been with him for 52 years,” Kenneth replied.  “He has no living relatives.”  “Prove it,” the hospital staffer responded.  “He wanted to be cremated,” Kenneth said.

“You have no power to authorize his cremation.  You may be wanting to cover up evidence about his death.  We’ll put his body in the morgue until we get some reliable direction.”

Kenneth was grief stricken and distraught when he called me at 7 a.m. to tell me what had happened.  I found a lawyer to help him, but there was not a lot of help to be found.  Bob had never given Kenneth power of attorney, made out a medical proxy, or any other legal document.  His will was inadequate to express his request for cremation.  Kenneth called a crematorium which said they couldn’t pick up the body until it was released by the hospital.  The hospital would not release the body.  Every day Kenneth went to the hospital or called it .  NO, they would not release Bob’s body.  Every day and several times a day Kenneth called me, grieving over the fact that as he said “Bob’s body is still lying on a cold slab.”  This went on day after day for over a week until the hospital gave in.  They didn’t want the body there any more and they were willing to bend the rules.

You see, you have no rights unless you have equal marriage.  No hospital visitation rights, no medical directive rights, no insurance rights, no equal inheritance rights, no equal Social Security benefits, no IRS deductions, no vital rights.  Your partner, your commitment, your relationship is legally worthless.

I believe that society is strengthened the more committed family groups it has, that state and nation are strengthened the more they affirm loving consensual relationships, the more they encourage people to live together in ways which further hope, share and grow faith, and kindle responsible love.

I do believe that equal marriage would aid not only countless lesbigay people, but also it would aid the welfare of our so distressed society.  I want to be able to perform such marriages.  I want to have the right to have such a marriage for myself even at my age.

Thank you for listening.  May you act in the cause of equality.

Katherine (Kay) Greenleaf

Personal Reflection – by Pat Sullivan
Offered at UURMaPA Conference, October, 2019

I met Kay in 1986, and after a year, she moved to Columbus, Ohio, and we officially became partners.  She worked in the social services and had gone to a UU society in her hometown.  After settling into our new home, we started looking for someplace to meet our spiritual needs.  We went to the First UU Church of Columbus, and there was a woman minister in the pulpit, a new experience for me, as a lapsed Lutheran.  We stayed for coffee hour and both felt welcome.  We started attending regularly and then joined.  For the first time since I came out, I was in a place that I felt like I could be my authentic whole self.

Kay and I became very involved in the church, first as “Sunday greeters.” We believed that if members of the LGBT community came to First UU, they would see us and recognize that it was a welcoming church, and they did.  Later we joined church committees and became board members.  Kay even became co-chair of building the new worship center a couple of years later.

When we first joined, there were only a few LGBT folks, so we became among the founding families of “This Way Out,” First UU Church’s lesbian, gay, bisexual concerns group, later a part of UUA’s Interweave.  As individuals and as a group we became very visible and accepted by the wider church community.  In June 1989, we asked the Board to approve the congregation’s participation to march in the Columbus Gay and Lesbian Rights Parade with us.  They overwhelmingly approved and several church members did march.  The Church even placed an ad in the local gay publication that listed welcoming and gay-friendly businesses.

Kay and I had a commitment service at the church in 1989 officiated by the minister who was in the pulpit when we first arrived at First UU.  A friend told us that we were the first to do so, even though there were a few other couples in the church.  Kay designed the ceremony to include everything that was important to us.  We later called it our “high mass,” it was so long.  Thank goodness it was followed by a party and dancing.  Later that Fall two of our friends also had a commitment service.

Our LGBT group was growing, so we decided to organize more formally and Kay became the chair.  We began to hold monthly discussion groups at church and sometimes there were more than 20 of us discussing a variety of issues ranging from “coming out” to substance abuse issues and incest.  At the same time, we started having monthly newsletters and “potlucks” at members’ homes, for bonding and for business meetings to plan activities.

As a group and as individuals, we became close, like a family, and it was at these potlucks that a couple of the men revealed their HIV status.  One of the men, who lived alone, became unable to work and was on disability.  Since his apartment was close to my job, I’d go check on him during my lunch.  When he could no longer live alone, he moved in with Kay and me in our spare room for a couple of months until his parents took him home.  He died not much later.

In February of 1993, we invited and planned the UU Convo to be held at First Church.  There were various workshops, attendees from out of town — all in all, it was a success.  That year, our local Interweave chapter also held the “Welcoming Congregation” sessions for other members of the congregation.  Our group presented Sunday services and designed, donated and built a circular stone wall in front of the new worship center.  We were an integral part of First UU Church.

During these years, we invited the Columbus LGBT community to our annual New Year’s Eve parties with food, music and dancing.  It was one of the few places in town where we could go to a “chem free” party.  Not only did we have fun, but we were able to donate profits to the church.

Even though I’ve moved away, I still hold some of the people from our group as close family.

Kay went to seminary in the mid 90’s and was ordained in 1995.  In 1998, Kay was called to Poughkeepsie, NY to be a settled minister at the UU Fellowship, and we moved.

In 2004, after the Mayor of New Paltz, NY, was prohibited from performing same-sex marriages, Kay volunteered to continue the marriages.  The UU Fellowship overwhelmingly approved and encouraged her action.  She invited Dawn Sangrey, whom she met while in seminary, and who lived nearby, to join in.  They wrote the ceremony words and worked with local activists to plan and hold weekly weddings in New Paltz.  She enlisted U.U.  ministers and clergy from other denominations to help marry over 100 same-sex couples over the next several months.  Kay and I were married the first weekend, and our picture was on the front page of the local paper the next day.  My official outing — I was freaked out and anxious about going to work the next day since I wasn’t widely out.

She and Dawn told the District Attorney that they meant these weddings to be valid and not symbolic.  Since they were performing weddings without a license, they were arrested and formally indicted.  They were the first clergy in the nation to be prosecuted for marrying same sex couples.  There was national and international coverage of these weddings.  In June the court dismissed the charges against Kay and Dawn.  Over the next year they were invited to speak in several UU churches about their experience.  In November 2004, they were recognized, along with their attorney and the mayor of New Paltz, for fighting for the human rights of all individuals, by the National Employment Lawyers Association of New York.

I’m proud as a UU and as Kay’s wife to have been a part of those times in New Paltz, 2004.

James Stoll

James L. Stoll (1936-1994)


Offered by Rev. Jaco ten Hove
UURMaPA Conferences February and October, 2019

“In the world of religion, one of the great neglected actors, a man who had a marquee moment but then fell into obscurity, is the Rev. James Stoll, a Unitarian Universalist who died in 1994. Mr. Stoll, one of the first openly gay ministers in America, had a difficult life… but he was hugely responsible for introducing American churchgoers to gay rights.” So wrote the New York Times [Mark Oppenheimer, 9/18/2010] in 2010 on the occasion of the death of the NYC vice officer [Seymour Pine] who in June 1969 led the Stonewall Inn raid.

Jim Stoll was born in 1936 in Connecticut, educated at Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, at San Francisco State University and, finally, at Starr King School for the Ministry. After ordination, he served the UU Church in Kennewick, Washington, from 1962 until 1969. After leaving there — and church documents indicate that he was asked to resign — he moved back to the Bay Area.

Wayne Arnason, who was a continental leader in LRY (Liberal Religious Youth) in the late 1960s, remembers Jim as among the early out gay UU leaders alongside Dick Nash, although they moved in different circles. When Wayne met him sometime in 1969, Jim Stoll already had a significant history of support and involvement with continental youth ministry.

On that arc, Jim was an advisor to the post-high school U.U.s called Student Religious Liberals at their Continental Conference over Labor Day weekend 1969, held at Camp La Foret in Colorado. Wayne was there representing LRY and recalls that Jim, like so many closeted gay professionals, was both furious and inspired by the Stonewall Rebellion earlier that summer. “He had decided he would not live in secrecy any longer,” wrote Wayne. “He came out powerfully in a moving sermon and worship service at that conference, and it was a moment that changed my life.”

The New York Times article quoted another colleague who was there, Lee Bond-Upson, a good friend and roommate of Jim’s, who remembers that Rev. Stoll proclaimed, “‘If the revolution we’re in means anything, it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.’ …Then he told us he was gay, and had always been gay, and it wasn’t a choice, and he wasn’t ashamed anymore and that he wasn’t going to hide it anymore, and from now on he was going to be himself in public. After he concluded, there was a dead silence, then a couple of the young women went up and hugged him, followed by general congratulations. The few who did not approve kept their peace.” Wayne Arnason adds, “For the first time, I was given access to the point of view of a gay man. The possibility that gay people weren’t sick, just different, opened up to me. The realization that my own ignorance was part of an oppressive system that I supported first occurred to me. I have been forever grateful.”

The next June at the 1970 General Assembly in Seattle, Jim was, as Wayne put it, “all-in with our LRY leadership cadre. He had an apartment in Seattle, and with his home as a base for our organizing, he offered us adult credibility and a place to stay when we needed it. But Jim also wanted something from us as we headed for that assembly. He had authored a resolution he wanted to get before the 1970 UUA General Assembly that would support “homosexual civil rights.” He needed allies, and he needed campaign workers to be able to get this resolution before the General Assembly by petition. The LRY leadership was happy to be among those allies… I don’t remember what the final vote was — but it passed. It was the first official statement by the UUA on anything related to LGBT people.

He was hugely responsible for introducing American churchgoers to gay rights. For those who support gay rights, he ought to be a hero; for those troubled by increased acceptance of homosexuality, he makes a vivid villain.

Rev. Stoll left not only his mark on human rights by advocating on behalf of GLBT Americans, but also his own life. When Rev. Stoll came out as a college student at Unitarian conference in September 1969, he stood in front of the audience and proclaimed “If the revolution we’re in means anything, it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.” If only as a society we were to embrace these powerful words, I am confident that we would be a society that respected the beauty and uniqueness of God’s creation. According to one of the conference attendees at the 1969 conference, Stoll continued his speech by announcing that he was gay.

This hero of the GLBT struggle for equal rights died on December 8, 1994. We can only hope that his life and work imbue our continuing struggle for equality.

Richard Nash

Richard L. Nash (1935 – 1997)


Offered by Rev. Jaco ten Hove, Researched by Rev. Marni Harmony
UURMaPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

The Rev. Richard Lee Nash received his ministerial training at Meadville Lombard Theological School, graduating in 1961. He then served Chicago’s First Universalist Church for a few years where he was active in a number of social justice causes. At that time he was “in the closet” because UU ministers typically lost their ministries if they “came out.”

He was employed by the UU Service Committee from 1965-1969, eventually serving as Director of Community Services. Colleague and friend Jim Hobart believes it was during this time that Dick did come out and reflected that it “definitely had a negative impact on his ministry.”

In a 2003 book, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” Mark Oppenheimer (a staff writer for the Christian Century) profiled “America’s first gay ministers and first female priests” and reported that Dick “came out in a sermon on gay liberation, inspired by Stonewall.” Oppenheimer described how a resolution, partly written by Nash, was passed at the 1970 General Assembly, condemning discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals.

Later in that year, distressed by the lack of any forum for gay religionists in the Los Angeles area, Nash and Floyd Hof, another UU, organized a conference titled, “Getting Our Thing Together.”

According to the press release for their event, it was designed “for people whose sexual orientation is gay and whose religious orientation is liberal.” Nash, as one of the conference conveners, was quoted declaring,”We think the time is ripe to get ourselves together, to discover what kind of continuing association we want, and to join forces to achieve common aims.”

Despite the UUA resolution just months before, it is noteworthy that First Unitarian Church of LA would only host the conference if it was announced that use of the church facilities did not imply church endorsement.

In 1971, Nash was co-founder of the UU Gay Caucus (later called Interweave), which lobbied for the creation of an official UUA department. He became its first coordinator and edited the first several newsletters. He helped expand the idea of an office within the structure of the denomination to work on turning around homophobia within and without the UUA and he drafted the resolution to establish it. Others led a drive to establish the Office of Gay Affairs and it was finally funded in 1974.

Dick later joined the UUA Department of Religious Education’s curriculum team and was one of the chief reviewers of sex education materials. He worked with Gene Navias to revise part of the “About Your Sexuality” curriculum, which appeared as revised in 1973.

In the mid-’70s he began serving the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community in various secular positions in the Los Angeles area until retirement.

In 1997, Dick’s life was cut short by AIDS.

Jim Hobart has recently written that “Dick Nash is an example of our UU amnesia for those who served and witnessed to the values inherent in our UU faith. He was on the forefront of many social justice issues beginning in the 1960s. He was devoted to an urban UU church presence regarding issues of racism, poverty, and other urban ills. My memory is that he was an anti-war and peace activist.

“He was both modest and determined in serving our UU progressive values and our American democratic ways. In addition to his social justice witnesses, Dick Nash was a good and loyal friend to me and many others.  I still miss him these many years later.”

Frank Robertson

Frank Robertson (1936 – 2008)

Offered by Rev. Ginger Luke
UURMaPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

I knew Frank Robertson as a religious educator.  He was instrumental in welcoming experienced but non-credentialed religious educators into LREDA when only credentialed religious educators had been allowed.  He made me feel welcomed.  He seemed to always be able to make people of any age, any training, any gender, any race or any religion feel welcomed.

His passion and commitment to children and youth was outstanding.  Perhaps this had such authenticity because he truly understood what it was like to be in the process of figuring out who you are.  He spent extra time and support with leaders in LRY (Liberal Religious Youth) especially mentoring people like Wayne Arnason.  Wayne recalls that Frank was a FULLBAC supporter and a Youth Agenda supporter active in the Fellowship for Renewal in the early 70s.

Frank was a leader within LREDA.  He was the recipient of the Angus McLean Award for Excellence in Religious Education.  Frank was the author of the UUA curriculum on World Religions.  He was a mentor to many religious educators, seminarians and many parish ministers.  Rev.  Abhi Janamanchi recalls Frank as a mentor, friend, cheerleader and family member.  Frank was one of the primary guides into civil rights and gay rights especially for the UUA.

It is thought that Frank was the first openly gay religious educator to be hired or called by a UU congregation when he became the Minister of Religious Education at All Souls in Washington, D.C.  It is also thought that his officiating at a union ceremony at All Souls contributed to his leaving that congregation.

But Frank’s leadership went well beyond his role as a religious educator.  He was a founding member of Interweave, an organization affiliated with the UUA to address the concerns of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) people.  In this role he greatly helped other LBGT persons claim their identity.  Through Interweave’s efforts, the General Assembly was lobbied to pass resolutions concerning LGBT rights and the UUA Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns was established.  Frank was a national and local Gay Caucus leader.

From 1978 to 1980, Frank was a member of the UUA Board of Trustees where he was both soft spoken and effective in lobbying for human rights causes.  He served on the board of the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA).  He founded and chaired the Unitarian Universalist Religious Education History Group and served on the boards of the St.  Lawrence Foundation and the U.S. Chapter of the International Association for Religious Freedom.  He participated in the International Association for Religious Freedom Congress in Tokyo in 1984.  He was an Elder of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Frank received an M.Div. from the Theological School of St.  Lawrence University in 1962, where he was certified in Religious Education.  He studied World Religions specializing in East Indian studies at Columbia.

He received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Meadville Lombard Theological School in 2006.

He was ordained by the First Grace Universalist Church in Lowell, MA and served congregations in Barneveld and Shelter Rock, NY, and Paramus, NJ.  He served as Minister of Religious Education in Washington, D.C., Santa Barbara, CA and Evanston, IL where he was awarded the titled of Minister Emeritus upon his retirement.

Frank died Feb.  6, 2008, survived by his partner of 36 years, Mr.  Rick McDonald of Plymouth, MA, his daughters, Lydia and Denene and four grandchildren.

If Frank were here with us today, he would be 82 years old and he would be congratulating us and gently challenging us to face the work yet before us.  His spirit is truly present with us today.

Thank you, Frank.

James Stoll

Haunted Man of the Cloth and Pioneer of Gay Rights

By Mark Oppenheimer

SEPT. 18, 2010, New York Times

The death this month of Seymour Pine, the vice officer who in June 1969 led a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, unwittingly galvanizing the gay rights movement, is a reminder that history has its forgotten actors, too. For every star in the history of gay rights — think the politician Harvey Milk, or the comedian Ellen DeGeneres — there are many more bit players, people whose names do not even make the credits.

In the world of religion, one of the great neglected actors, a man who had a marquee moment but then fell into obscurity, is the Rev. James Stoll, a Unitarian Universalist who died in 1994. Mr. Stoll, one of the first openly gay ministers in America, had a difficult life, and his demons seemed to follow him to an early grave.

But he was hugely responsible for introducing American churchgoers to gay rights. For those who support gay rights, he ought to be a hero; for those troubled by increased acceptance of homosexuality, he makes a vivid villain.

Mr. Stoll was born in 1936 in Connecticut. He was educated at Mount Hermon School, in Massachusetts, at San Francisco State University and, finally, at Starr King School for the Ministry, in Berkeley, Calif. After being ordained, he pastored a church in Kennewick, Wash., from 1962 until 1969. After leaving the church in Kennewick — church documents indicate that he was asked to resign — he moved back to the Bay Area.

In the words of Mr. Stoll’s friend Leland Bond-Upson, who in 2005 first delivered a sermon about him at a church in Petaluma, Calif., Mr. Stoll took a flat in the Eureka Valley neighborhood of San Francisco “with three others (me the draft counselor, Nick the cabinetmaker and Peter the communist revolutionary), and for a full year we four hosted an unending stream of young visitors, all come to look for America or something.”

Soon, in September 1969, Mr. Stoll drove Mr. Bond-Upson and two others in his Volkswagen Fastback to the La Foret conference center in Colorado Springs to attend a convention of about 100 college-age Unitarians.

“On the second or third night of the conference,” according to Mr. Bond-Upson, “after dinner, Jim got up to speak. He told us that he’d been doing a lot of hard thinking that summer. Jim told us he could no longer live a lie. He’d been hiding his nature — his true self — from everyone except his closest friends. ‘If the revolution we’re in means anything,’ he said, ‘it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.’

“Then he told us he was gay, and had always been gay, and it wasn’t a choice, and he wasn’t ashamed anymore and that he wasn’t going to hide it anymore, and from now on he was going to be himself in public. After he concluded, there was a dead silence, then a couple of the young women went up and hugged him, followed by general congratulations. The few who did not approve kept their peace.”

Mr. Stoll was not the first openly gay minister. He had been preceded by at least one man, the Rev. Troy Perry, who the previous year had founded the Metropolitan Community Churches in Los Angeles. That denomination, which has straight members but has always specialized in ministry to queer communities, now claims 43,000 members in 22 countries.

But Mr. Stoll was a minister of an established denomination — a liberal one, often so diverse as to seem post-Christian, but nonetheless one with Christian roots. As such, he brought gay rights to the heterosexual Christian world. Over the next year, newly emboldened, Mr. Stoll wrote articles about gay rights and delivered guest sermons at several churches.

In July 1970, at their general assembly in Seattle, Unitarians passed a resolution condemning discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals. Other churches soon liberalized, too. In 1972, for example, the United Church of Christ ordained an openly gay man, and today there are openly gay Episcopal priests and Lutheran ministers.

Having pioneered an important change in American Christianity, Mr. Stoll never returned to the ministry. In fact, it seems that he could not. According to letters kept at Harvard, sent in 1970 between church members and Unitarian officials, Mr. Stoll had been suspected of drug use and of inappropriate sexual advances toward young people in the Kennewick congregation. The circumstances of his departure made it unlikely he would find another pulpit.

Over the next 25 years, Mr. Stoll had a varied career. He worked as a substance abuse counselor, started a hospice on Maui, in Hawaii, and served as secretary of the San Francisco chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“He died on Dec. 8, 1994,” Mr. Bond-Upson said in his 2005 sermon, “a little short of age 59. He died not of AIDS, but of worn-out heart and lungs. He was never able to lose much weight, nor quit smoking. When it was known he was dying, a stream of friends came to say goodbye. Friends arrived from the A.C.L.U., from inner-city social services, from Hunters Point, from drug abuse treatment centers, from the ministry. Yet despite all this matchmaking, and though his romantic side often found expression, Jim never had for long the all-embracing love he longed for.”

Mr. Stoll left no descendants, but he had many heirs.

Rev. Kathleen Ellis

Celebrating Fifteen Years

This sermon won Kathleen the Interweave sermon contest, and she delivered it again at the Interweave gathering at General Assembly in June 2000 (Nashville, TN).

CELEBRATING FIFTEEN YEARS!

College Station, TX, 26 March 2000
Rev. Kathleen Ellis

The Unitarian Universalist Association has been on record since 1970 as supporting the rights and worth of gays, lesbian, and bisexual persons.  But as recently as 1987, we became painfully aware of a great deal of unexamined and hurtful homophobia within our congregations.  That’s why this congregation spent so much time trying to educate ourselves about homosexuality and our very real discomfort around this issue.  We continue to pay attention to this because we are pushing against conventional wisdom, which we absorbed from the day we were born.  I know I did.

Back in 1972, Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love wrote a book with a great title: Sappho Was a Right-On Woman.  From a book of quotations, I found this gem from that book:  “If Lesbians were purple, none would be admitted to respected places.  But if all Lesbians suddenly turned purple today, society would be surprised at the number of purple people in high places.”

Audre Lorde was a writer who died of cancer eight years ago.  Here’s how she described herself in 1983:

I was born Black, and a woman.  I am trying to become the strongest person I can become to live the life I have been given and to help effect change toward a liveable future for this earth and for my children.  As a Black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, poet, mother of two (including one boy), and a member of an interracial couple, I usually find myself part of some group in which the majority defines me as deviant, difficult, inferior or just plain “wrong.”

From my membership in all of these groups I have learned that oppression and the intolerance of difference come in all shapes and sexes and colors and sexualities; and that among those of us who share the goals of liberation and a workable future for our children, there can be no hierarchies of oppression.

I have learned that sexism (a belief in the inherent superiority of one sex over all others and thereby its right to dominance) and heterosexism (a belief in the inherent superiority of one pattern of loving over all others and thereby its right to dominance) both arise from the same source as racism — a belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby its right to dominance.

“Oh,” says a voice from the Black community, “but being Black is NORMAL!” Well, I and many Black people of my age can remember grimly the days when it didn’t used to be!…

… so long as we are divided because of our particular identities, we cannot join together in effective political action.

Within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian.  Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community.  Any attack against lesbians and gays is a Black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black.  There is no hierarchy of oppression.

Oppression is a heavy load for any person or group.  We have felt it ourselves as a minority religious faith.  Our vision is to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  This vision has played out most often in our work to treat groups of people as human beings, such as people of color, the mentally ill, immigrants, and people with disabilities.  Today we celebrate our progress in treating gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as human beings.  Today we celebrate with our local University [Texas A&M], the fifteenth anniversary of its formal recognition of a gay and lesbian student group.

Throughout the coming week there will be events on and off campus to celebrate this particular kind of diversity.  A&M is not exactly the most diverse school in the world, but a lot of people are working to highlight the diversity that is there, and to normalize differences among us.  Recognition of a gay and lesbian student group did not come easily; in fact, it was state mandated.  Still, it was a major step forward in building community for a specific group of people.

Why is this important?

Individuals who are identified as part of an inferior group share common experiences.  If you are bald in a world that takes pride in beautiful hair, you have an instant bond with other people who are bald.  Nowadays some people shave their heads on purpose, sometimes to defy convention or to look distinctive or even to save time and shampoo!  But baldness and left-handedness, for example, do not typically lead to discrimination, hatred, and even violence.

An even stronger social convention is in the clothes we wear.  Men don’t wear dresses, do they?  Women don’t wear the so-called “pants in the family,” do they? When they do, they are subject to possible criticism at the very least and maybe even condemnation.  Tonight millions of people will tune in to the Academy Awards.  Beautiful, thin people will parade up to the stage dressed “to the nines” in their tuxedos and low-cut dresses and perfect makeup, while the rest of us poor slobs will look shabby by comparison.

When I was in grade school, I was not allowed to wear pants unless the temperature dipped well below freezing.  Today, infants are still dressed according to their sex, and I haven’t seen any of you guys in dresses and high heels!  But I’d be mighty surprised if you did.  My spouse tells me that a boy at First Unitarian Universalist Church wore dresses to church (but not to school) at least until the eighth grade.  People were more interested in his ideas and how he treated other people than in what he wore.

There is a danger in dividing people into groups because, it tends to ignore the range of personality and behavior within those groups.  Individuals who are hated because of their group identification can suffer alone or they can join with other members of the group.  They share their experiences of oppression and ways to resist oppression.  They share a struggle for survival.  They share the experience of community as a source of hope and understanding.

Audre Lorde was in so many minority categories she could be hated by just about anyone.  All of the categories helped define who she was and they also placed her in multiple circles where you and I might find ourselves, too.  For example, she and I were both born female and so were at least half of you and at least half of the world’s population.  But the only thing we all have in common is biological.  The way we express our femaleness is a function of gender expectation in the culture as well as our own unique personality and style.

My point is that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people share some things in common, but THEY are a diverse collection of individuals, too.  Christine Smith shares my whiteness, my femaleness and my vocation.  She is ordained in the United Church of Christ.  But she is also a professor of preaching and worship at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.  One of her books on preaching was assigned reading in my own preaching class.  She is also a lesbian.

Smith is interested in lifting up diverse voices that are still dominated by Euro-American voices in the world of preaching.  She sees this as an issue of justice.  Until we begin to hear different voices, we cannot hope to build bridges of understanding among us.  Speaking as a lesbian, Smith identifies three liberation movements within the wide range of the lesbian and gay community.

The first movement is for personal and social equal rights.  The idea is to integrate homosexuals into mainstream culture just as heterosexuals have come to expect.  The emphasis is on the sacred quality of each person.  Justice means treating everyone with equality.

The second movement is toward sexual liberation.  The primary issue is freedom of expression in every area of our relational and sexual lives.  Justice means treating people and their sexuality as inherently good.  I am reminded here of Holly Near’s song entitled “Simply Love.”  The lyrics begin, “Why does my love make you shift restless in your chair / and leave you in despair / It’s simply love — my love for a woman.”  She makes the point that it is war and hatred that should rouse our indignation, not affection and love.

The third liberation movement for gays and lesbians is a movement toward radical social and religious transformation.  The idea is to challenge our heterosexist social system, culture, and theology and to challenge our idea about appropriate roles for men and women.  Justice means freedom from gender constraints.

You may or may not identify with any of these three movements:  equal rights, sexual liberation, or radical change.  But all of us are affected by progress in these areas as well as the backlash against it.  There seems to be a bi-coastal battle for legal recognition of same sex marriage.  I, for one, want to encourage long term commitment between loving adults.

On a local level, I have a dream that friendship, affection, and love for another will be a cause for celebration.  As the Rev. Mark Belletini puts it, “Let love change everything:  ordinary daily bread into the bread of life, need into abundance, friendship into communion, and fear into praise.”  Parents love their children of either sex.  Brothers and sisters love each other — or don’t — because of their personality, not their sex.

And what about us, now that we have been formally recognized as a Welcoming Congregation? By way of partial response, let me share one story told by the Rev.  John Thornburg, pastor at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas.  It was Mother’s Day, and prayers were offered for mothers, for women without children, and for mothers who have not been a source of strength for their children.

When this last prayer was offered, three women turned in their seats and gently placed their hands on one young man seated nearby who was weeping quietly.  It seems that a few months before, in some measure because his church family affirmed him both as a child of God and as a gay man, he had come out to his parents.  They cut him out of their lives instantly and took such actions as returning, unopened, his letters and Christmas gifts.  The church then became his spiritual refuge in the depth of his sorrow and pain.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

So long as good people are condemned for who they are as human beings, we must offer refuge.

So long as religion is used as a tool for hatred, we must offer refuge.

Though we welcome all people who share our approach to religion, our special welcome to socially marginalized and hated people is right and just.  Songwriter Fred Small wrote a song to a child called “Everything Possible.”  The chorus goes like this:

You can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will

You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.

May our words and our deeds be signs of love and justice.

Amen.

Gene Navias

Eugene Barnett Navias (1928-2014)

Offered by Rev. Judy Welles
UURMaPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

“Gene” Navias  was born on March 18, 1928 to devout Unitarians Dr. Louis Navias and Adelaide Gant Navias.  He graduated from St.  Lawrence University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1949 and from the Theological School of St. Lawrence with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1951.

He was ordained to the ministry by the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland, OH in 1951.  It was during that settlement that he “learned” he was gay, at the age of 23, but of course he remained closeted for fear of not only losing his job, but being drummed out of the ministry.  In a personal interview with his niece-by-marriage, Jennifer Hamlin Navias (who is a colleague of ours), he said “I tried to pass for straight, acting as butch as I could, but I must not have been at all convincing.  As a Unitarian, I went to the old May Meetings held yearly in Boston.  I cruised the watering spots and discovered my colleagues at the Napoleon and the Punch Bowl.  What a relief.  There was a little band of us, all living double lives.  We met, shared stories and gave one another needed support and advice on how to cope.  We were all we had and we needed one another.  We knew that the Unitarian Department of Ministry was death on gays.”

He was called to two other churches before serving as Religious Education Field Consultant to the UUA from 1963 to 1982, then Director of the Religious Education Department of the UUA from 1982 to 1993.  When he decided to apply for that position, he went to Gene Pickett, then UUA President, and said “There’s something you should know about me, and so I’m telling you that I’m gay.”  Pickett replied “Well, other people have told me that they think you’re coming out, but I’ve never heard it from you.”  Navias answered, “I think it’s important that you hear it from me,” and Gene Pickett responded, “Well, I can tell you that it doesn’t matter to me.”  In Navias’s words, “What an ally! That was extraordinary.”[1]

In 2001, he was chosen by his peers to give the 50-year address at Ministry Days.  On that occasion, he said “There was no way I could be openly gay in 1953.  The UUA shipped queers out fast… But I wanted to be a minister, and I hit the closet running.  I was actively uncelebate for 25 years until the liberation movement generated by Stonewall, the UUA resolutions were passed, and UUA President Gene Pickett affirmed my right to be me.”[2]

He served as associate minister to Arlington Street Church of Boston, MA after his service to the UUA, from 1993 to 1999.  When he received the Distinguished Service Award in 2005, he spoke about the Gay Pride March that had just happened in Boston, saying “At that moment, my hopes for the world began to be restored…  That this remnant could make its voice heard and make its voice for freedom and justice be heard.”[3]

Ever the religious educator, Gene was a huge proponent of LREDA.  All the way back in 1967, LREDA recognized the need for good sexuality education in our RE programs.  The first sexuality education program of the UUA was published in 1971.  In a published interview titled “How AYS Saved My Life,” of the topic then called “homosexuality,” he said, “[AYS] held that same-sex affection, attraction and expression are natural to human beings.  It championed the rights of gays and lesbians to fair and equal treatment in society and before the law.  AYS was a landmark program in its openness, its frankness, its keen sense of justice, and its explicit information, in regard to all the topics of sexuality, but especially in the area of homosexuality it led and still leads the way.”

He continued, “The program was wonderful for me.  As the person in charge of all the training and demonstration, I became liberalized and liberated myself.  ABOUT YOUR SEXUALITY helped me become comfortable with my own sexuality and that of others.  I believe that AYS has been important… for the liberalizing impact it has had on the whole UUA.  AYS produced a cadré of informed and liberated delegates who went to General Assemblies and voted support for gay and lesbian unions, for the Office of Gay and Lesbian Concerns, for gay and lesbian clergy, and all the rest.” [4]

In the late 1970’s, Gene collaboratively developed the Renaissance Program, a religious education training program, and in 1981, he developed the UUA’s Accreditation Program for Directors of Religious Education.  He edited the UUA’s Religious Education AIDS packet in the late 1980’s.  During the ten years that he served as Director of the UUA’s Religious Education Department, participation in religious education grew by nearly forty percent.

Gene successfully united music with religious education.  He authored new lyrics to well-known tunes, such as “John Murray Sailed Over the Ocean,” as a way of teaching Unitarian Universalist history and theology.  He served on a team that studied the feasibility of the first Unitarian Universalist hymnal, and organized a program of narrations and hymns for the 1992 UUA General Assembly titled “Singing – Shouting – Celebrating:  200 Years of Universalism.”

He had a wide range of interests, and succeeded in many different areas of life.  Quite musical, he was an accomplished pianist and a tenor soloist.  He collected church music; his collection is now housed at Arlington Street Church.  Gene also enjoyed traveling, and with his partner, Jim, ventured to Austria, the Czech Republic, England, Mexico, and Spain.  Additionally, he was interested in antiquing; his mother was an avid antique collector, and she brought Gene along in her hunts.  When Gene entered adulthood, he developed his own interest in antiquing, and he soon couldn’t pass by an antique store without entering.

On a more personal note, his niece Jennifer recounts, “One of the first times I met Gene and his [first] partner Stan (at a family Thanksgiving gathering around 1995), I remember asking Gene how he and Stan had met.  He laughed in that way that he had, and with a glimmer in his eye said to me something along the lines of “You know… when you ask a gay man where he met his partner, you just never know what kind of an answer you will get.  It might not be family appropriate.” All at once, with that simple statement, he let me know that I had asked a question that was REALLY heteronormative, and that it was all right; he was willing to give me a little guidance.  There was not an ounce of defensiveness or anger in his answer and he let me know where I had stepped in it without leaving me feeling covered in crap.  Gene was a master at making people feel welcome.”[5]

Gene died on August 17, 2014 at the age of 86, leaving a generous bequest to UURMaPA, which we have used to enhance our endowment fund.

His niece Jennifer gets the last word here: “In my mind when I think about how a Universalist could best live out their faith of universal salvation and how all humans are worthy, I have only to think of Gene Navias.”


[1] From an interview conducted by Celeste DeRoche, May 19, 2009, currently housed at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library Archives and available only for personal research at this time (2/19).

[2] UUMA News, Autumn, 2001

[3] UUA web site, https://www.uua.org/giving/awards/distinguishedservice/recipients/navias

[4] “How AYS Saved My Life,” provenance unknown; Sarah Gibb Milspaugh might know. I received it from Jennifer Navias.

[5] Personal e-mail, Jennifer Navias to me, Feb. 12, 2019

Diane M W Miller

Our UU Rainbow History

by Rev. Diane Miller
UU Fellowship of Salina, Kansas

September 15, 2019

Change happens.  (This is an ancient religious truth).  Changes are taking place all the time, outside of our control.  This is the nature of the universe.  Intentional change in a chosen direction can happen, individually and in public, if we are effective in making it happen.  One of the primary features of being a faith community is to effect transformation.  Directed change is not easy.

How did our Unitarian Universalist congregations go from being homophobic or just “tolerant” of same-sex relationships some 50 years ago, to being Welcoming Congregations and leading advocates of equal rights and marriage equality?

Today I want to reflect on the changes since that night when transwomen at the Stonewall Inn bar in New York City fought back against arrests.  I’ll tell you about a project of collecting some of the history.  I will include some of my experiences in ministry as we addressed change.  And I want to know more about your role as a Fellowship in the Equality Movement in Kansas.

I am serving as President of a voluntary organization, the Unitarian Universalist Retired Ministers and Partners Association (UURMaPA). We number around 900 ministers and partners, who are active to varying degrees.  We hold two conferences a year, fall and winter, and have an annual gathering in June at the UUA General Assembly.  After two years as Vice President, I became President this past July, and will serve a two-year term.  Retirement, as most people discover, can be a busy time.

Some years ago one of our UURMaPA members proposed that we do a year of focus on our LGBTQ+ history.  That is another acronym you probably know, and it refers to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer.  Our understanding of gender and sexual identities is expanding, so the PLUS indicates those emerging identities, such as Intersex and Asexual or Pansexual.  This proposal became our UU Rainbow History Project, looking at the 50 years between Stonewall and now.  We held a conference this past February in Texas, and a second one is coming up this October in Connecticut.  Speakers and panelists noted their personal experiences, as we want to capture the history before those who lived it are gone.  Much of the change has happened in the realm of personal experiences, not institutional decisions, so the history is held by people.

Though we are a volunteer-run group, this project was big enough that we hired a retired minister, the Rev. Dorothy Emerson, to coordinate it and move it forward.  We were all stunned and grieved when Dorothy died unexpectedly in the midst of the project.  As a group of retired ministers, we are keenly aware of our mortality.  Awareness makes the loss of a dear friend and colleague no less sorrowful.  This work of capturing experiences has urgency.

With support from a grant from the UU Funding Panel, the project was launched.  UURMaPA has created a website with individual histories and a timeline.  We are selecting an editor for a book.  Rather than retell the stories that others have contributed, today I’ll speak from my own experience.

I am cis-gendered, meaning that my gender expression matches the sex I was assigned at birth; and I’m heterosexual, meaning all the loves of my life have been men.  I have been an ally for LGBTQ+ causes throughout my ministry.  Being privileged by being white and living a conventional-looking life as a wife, mother and grandmother, it is not a risk for me to speak up for gay rights or lesbian issues.  In fact, in the early years, that made me look prophetic and inclusive, whereas a gay or lesbian or trans minister risked getting fired.  One gay colleague told me that he never once preached about gay issues, yet he would be told that he talked about it all the time from the pulpit.  Just being a gay man preaching was a statement to the congregation, and some of them weren’t comfortable with it.

There have always been LGBTQ+ ministers in our ranks.  In the old days they were simply quiet about it, disguising relationships they did have, or foregoing being in love at all.  And the same was true of most church members.

In 1978, after graduating from Harvard Divinity School, I was invited to be the Assistant Minister in San Francisco, serving a large urban congregation.  One of my initiatives was to invite Holly Near to do a concert in the sanctuary.  To me she was a feminist singer and composer.  Holly Near was and is also a lesbian icon.  The concert sold out, SRO, and the UU church was then viewed as a place open and welcoming to Lesbians and gays.

In my second year, the Senior Minister departed for another call, and I stepped into the role of Interim Senior Minister.  I was just 29, still rather inexperienced, and needed a minister to work with me.  We formed a search committee and learned that a recent graduate of Starr King School was interested and available.  Mark Belletini was interviewed and was our obvious choice.  Mark was an out gay man.  So was the layperson chairing the Search Committee, so there was no issue there.  I was thrilled to have Mark take on the Assistant Minister role.  I was not concerned about Mark being gay.  I was concerned that the compensation being offered was too low, and worried that he would turn us down.  But he joined the team.  As it turns out, that was the first time an out gay man was chosen for a ministry position.

Mark and I in turn selected two students from Starr King to be interns:  Barbara Pescan, who was partnered with a female UU minister, and Mark DeWolfe, a gay preacher’s kid who had grown up UU and was one of the more brilliant people I’ve ever known.  The four of us had a brief, shining, glorious time working together, and leading the church through its clergy transition.  We were not successful because of being gay, straight, and lesbian.  We were successful because each one of us was a gifted minister and leader.  As a team we held the church through horrible public events, including the murders of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk; and the killings of Congressman Leo Ryan and hundreds of followers of The People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana.

One of the issues in change is to destroy invisible barriers.  Because Belletini, Pescan and DeWolfe had opportunities to do outstanding ministry in a large, visible congregation, they were three of the first of our “out” ministers to be called by congregations.  They had been given a chance, a door through which to enter, a platform from which to be themselves as clergy.  Even so, there have been many times when a minister’s identity has been a barrier in their work.  We have been slower in affirming transgender ministers and leaders.  We still have a long way to go.

Someone in the San Francisco congregation at that time asked me why I was an advocate for homosexuals.  I recall thinking that I could identify with gay men because I, too, was attracted to men.  I grew up with sisters I loved dearly, and was a feminist, so I could identify with women who loved women.  It was a limited perspective, but I felt that love is love.  I was engaged and about to marry a man.  I could only imagine the pain of being denied the chance to be in love, or to be denied my call to ministry because of my love and my wish to share my life with another.

Personal connections with colleagues, classmates, and parishioners made me aware of the discrimination against LGBTQ+ ministers.  There was also widespread stereotyping of women in ministry, which I experienced first hand, and of people of color.  It was a justice issue everywhere in our culture.  In our UU congregations and our association we could do something about it.  We could change things, intentionally.

I was called to The First Church in Belmont, Massachusetts in 1981.  I left San Francisco just as the first awareness of a mysterious killing disease was dawning in the medical community.  Mark DeWolfe, one of our team of four, completed seminary and was called to a congregation in Canada.  Mark was diagnosed with AIDS not long into his new ministry.  I knew Mark occasionally visited his family in Massachusetts, so I invited him to preach in Belmont.  Mark delivered a brilliant sermon about living with the awareness of impending death.  It was still early in the AIDS crisis, and no one knew for sure how the illness could be caught or avoided or prevented.

In the receiving line, the congregation shook hands with Mark and his partner, and they hugged Mark.  I fell more in love with that congregation at that moment, when Mark was welcomed and recognized for his stellar ministry.  Sadly, Mark died young, before there was much in the way of treatment for the ravages of AIDS.

In the 1980s the UUA took some steps that addressed justice and awareness.  The UUA established an Office of Gay Affairs.  Several affinity organizations formed.  The UU sexuality education program, then called AYS, gave people some language and truthfulness about the range of human sexuality.  The Welcoming Congregation curriculum addressed congregational attitudes.  More ministers and leaders came out.  Some transferred from more restrictive traditions.  The broader culture was changing, and we were also.

When I was in San Francisco, I officiated at many weddings.  I was bothered that straight couples were the only ones who could marry legally.  I considered refusing to conduct weddings as a justice statement.  But I caved because I wasn’t paid enough to live on, and wedding fees made it possible to pay rent and Divinity School loans.  I was open to doing ceremonies of union for same sex couples, but few requests came along.  Years later, in the new millennium, I refused to sign marriage licenses until equal marriage became law.  The couples always had ways to get their licenses signed, but in the meantime, they became aware of their straight privilege under the law.

I know that this Fellowship took a leading role in LGNTQ+ rights in Salina, with the passage of a non-discrimination ordinance.  UUFS advocated for Marriage Equality in Kansas.  I’ve asked Thea Nietfield to write up her recollections of that time, when she was the minister here.  I invite you to write up any memories or milestones or actions you remember in the transformation of this Fellowship into being a welcoming group, and as advocates.

This work for justice has continued over all four decades of my ministry.  It continued when I was serving my last church, the First Religious Society in Carlisle, Massachusetts.  For context, Carlisle is a small town of five thousand.  It has a thriving UU congregation established in the colonial era.  There was a member of the congregation who expressed deeply homophobic views at the church, and in the local paper.  For a long time she was tolerated, like a nutty aunt to be ignored.  But it became clear that she was causing harm to the church and to the LGBTQ+ parishioners.  After a lengthy process, she was asked to leave the church.  She came for a final Sunday and stood up during joys and concerns to say goodbye.  But she launched into her diatribes against the OWL program.  I told her she needed to stop and sit down, but she kept talking.  Then I noticed the choir, in the back, stand up and turn their backs.  The congregation joined them, in a wave from back to front.  Soon virtually everyone was standing with their backs to the vitriol, refusing to listen.  The talking ended, and the homophobic church member left.  It had been a spontaneous response from a fed-up congregation.  From deep in their DNA had come a spontaneous shunning, a rejection of hateful utterances.

A few years later in that same community, two women who had built a home and an organic farm together found that someone had come into their home and left an anti-gay leaflet.  They felt very vulnerable.  A parishioner and I talked about this, and wrote a letter to the local paper, saying the church would be giving out rainbow flags that Sunday, and people could stop by all week and pick them up.  The flags began appearing on mailboxes all over town.  When they were stolen, people replaced them.  We put vases out on the front steps, and people pulled up to get flags.  We handed them out at the town parade, and at the Strawberry Festival.  Children danced around waving them happily.  The little town of Carlisle looked like a Pride celebration.

As a tradition we often speak about transforming our spirits, our souls, our lives, our relationships.  We have transformed ourselves as a movement, enriching our awareness of human experience, opening doors to the talented lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people called to our ministry, affirming their partners, their families, their stories, their lives.  We know we are all connected, and that injustice toward any is injustice toward all.

The work for justice is ongoing.  We hand it off to a new generation, trusting that our congregations will be filled with more love, more diversity, more hope than ever before.  The Beloved Community is a blessing, and we aspire to live with abundant love.

AMEN.

Mark Mosher Dewolfe

Mark Mosher DeWolfe (1953 – 1988)

Offered by Rev. Diane Miller
UURMAPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

His name was Mark Mosher DeWolfe.  Born in 1953, he lived until 1988, when AIDS ended his life at the age of 35.

I knew Mark, admired him, loved him.  He was a Starr King student who did his internship at the First Unitarian Society in San Francisco in 1979-1980.  I was the supervising minister.  Mark was born a “PK” and a multigenerational Universalist.  He knew our UU history, and knew his way around church life.  I learned from him.

We worked as a team of ministers: Mark Belletini, Barbara Pescan, Mark DeWolfe, and I.  It was a magical year, still remembered as a high point by that congregation.  DeWolfe was young, brilliant, creative, energetic, handsome, compassionate, witty, verbal, and gay.  He once described himself as a “hurricane.”

Mark Belletini wrote:  “Mark was the most ‘alive’ person I knew at that time.  Alert, hilarious, passionate, fierce, brilliant, a maestro of languages, a true Canadian eventually, and a major theologian of Canadian Contextual Theology…  he was a pioneer there too! I have rarely loved someone as much as I loved him…”

Barbara Pescan wrote:  “I remember his encyclopedic capacity for ‘nuggets’ about Unitarian Universalist historical figures…  His wit, and his enjoyment of wit.  I can still call up and hear his hiccup of a laugh.  He was deeply kind.  It’s the laugh, and his expression of helpless pleasure at being so amused that I remember with my own joy.”

Mark studied theater at Tufts before preparing for ministry at Starr King.  After graduation, he was a summer minister at Toronto First Unitarian, and then was hired by the South Peel, Mississauga, Congregation.  He was the first openly gay minister in Canada.  He was accomplished in all the arts of ministry.  He supported the fledgling Canadian UU Historical Society.  He wrote the hymn text for, “Sing Out Praises for the Journey,” which we sang yesterday.  Mark became well-known in Toronto for running a very active support group for young men dying of AIDS.

In 1982, while he was serving in Missisauga, I invited him to guest preach in my congregation in Belmont, MA.  He delivered a moving sermon about living after his diagnosis with AIDS.  One point he made was that he would die in a world that was still marked by “racism, sexism, patriarchy, militarism, and homophobia.”  At first he was depressed about this, but then realized it was not his task alone to save the world — that each of us is part of a community that will carry on.

At that time the retrovirus had not been identified, and people were not sure if it could be transmitted like a cold, or through contact, or what.  My parishioners filed through the receiving line, deeply moved by hearing Mark, giving him hugs and handshakes and words of appreciation.  I loved them for their embrace of my beloved colleague.

In 1992 Mark’s congregation published a selection of his writings, titled Time to Live.  In the preface his parents wrote:  “He demonstrated a deep sensitivity to the feelings of others, a reverence for all living things, and a penetrating curiosity about the meaning of experience and relationships.”

His name was Mark Mosher DeWolfe.

Recollections of Conducting Same-Sex Weddings in New Paltz, New York, March 2004

I knew that New Paltz Mayor Jason West had been performing same-sex weddings, but I learned of the ceremonies officiated by Rev. Katherine Greenleaf and Rev. Dawn Sangrey at a UUMA New York Metro District Chapter cluster meeting in Mt. Kisco, March 9, 2004.  Kay told us about the ceremonies and the legal entanglements that ensued.  I immediately volunteered to join Kay and Dawn at the next weddings.  Motivated by the cause and by my concern for Kay and Dawn’s legal troubles, I believed New York authorities needed to know that there was a long line of religious leaders who were prepared to step in and officiate same-sex weddings in New Paltz.

That week I checked in with Frank Hall, Senior  Minister at the Unitarian Church in Westport (CT), where I was a community minister, and contacted the organizing body of the same-sex weddings, New Paltz Equality Initiative, confirming that I would join Kay and Dawn in officiating weddings on Saturday, March 13.  Charles Clement reviewed plans for the day with me and said pro-bono attorneys would be available to us.  I talked with my family, saying that I was unsure how things would go on Saturday.  I printed out MapQuest directions for the 97-mile drive, gathered the ceremony text, my robe and stole, and then settled down to prepare my mind and spirit.

It rained a lot that week, but on Saturday morning the sky was a brilliant spring blue.  On the two hour drive to New Paltz, I entertained myself by thinking what books I’d request if I were arrested and thrown in jail.  I thought the chances of that were small, but I decided that if charged, I would refuse bail.  I didn’t believe the State of New York would tolerate the sight of one religious leader after another going to jail for officiating at weddings.

I arrived at the bed and breakfast that served as the staging area and waded into the gleeful crowd of organizers, members of the press, the couples to be wed, and their family and friends.  The energy was high, and the couples were giddy; I listened to the stories of couples who had been together for 22 years, 14 years, and 11 years.  A gay couple introduced me to the older woman standing beside them, crying.  She grasped my hand and thanked me for being there and said, “I love my son and his partner.  If he had to wait many more years to marry, would I even be alive to witness it?”

I met my pro-bono attorney, Russell Gioiella, who assured me he would accompany me throughout the day, and be available to me in the future.  I was grateful for his presence, warmth, expertise, and his skills as a chauffeur.  It is hard to move a crowd, and it took a while for several hundred people to re-assemble at the New Paltz Green (or park in the center of town).

The couples, their families, and I crossed sheets of plywood put down to protect our dress shoes from the mud.  Five or six of the couples and I ascended a few stairs to stand in the small pavilion.  A large gathering of other couples, family, friends, and supporters stood at the bottom of the stairs.  Before the first ceremony, I welcomed them and let them know that I was here to celebrate their love and to acknowledge the relationship that already existed.  I said that I didn’t believe we were breaking the law, but instead healing an injustice.  If there were protestors present, I don’t remember them.

One might think that officiating at a ceremony for five or six couples at a time would be impersonal, but that was not our experience.  We felt our circle was a tight-knit group of supporters who understood what it had taken for each of us to be there that day.  We all rejoiced for each couple who said, “I do.”  After the ceremonies concluded, we convened at a local restaurant for a celebratory luncheon where I was presented with a New Paltz Equality Initiative t-shirt (which I have to this day).

The memories and messages of thanks sustained me over the next couple of weeks of newspaper, TV, and radio interviews.  Many New York officials warned me that I would be charged with “solemnizing any marriage between any parties without a license,” but that never happened.  Many other religious leaders and I continued to officiate at same-sex weddings in New Paltz, but to the best of my knowledge, none but the first two, Kay and Dawn, were ever charged.

That felt like a victory, as did the ultimately successful fight for equality.  When New York legally recognized same-sex marriage on July 24, 2011, I heard from several of the couples from New Paltz asking if I would help them to make their union legal at last.

Jaco B ten Hove

My Journey From Homophobia

A sermon by Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove

Last preached at Paint Branch UU Church, Adelphi, MD, January 8, 2006

QUOTE: My own parents made no conscious attempt to teach me rigid sex roles, yet both they and I lived in the heterosexual box that was far larger, and more deeply formative, than either they or their children could realize. —Carter Heyward, Episcopal priest and feminist theologian

CHORUS from Everything Possible (by Fred Small):
You can be anybody you want to be; you can love whomever you will. You can travel any country where your heart leads, and know I will love you still. You can live by yourself; you can gather friends around; you can choose one special one. And the only measure of your words and your deeds Will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.

SERMON: My Journey From Homophobia — Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove

It doesn’t feel like a particularly dramatic story, my movement away from the homophobia of younger years, but I appreciate where it’s taken me, and maybe the telling can be helpful to others. It does have everything to do with Unitarian Universalism and our collective religious path in this direction.

Of course, my journey may not be a dramatic evolution for me because I am thoroughly one of the majority types in our land: a tall, white, hetero, EuroAmerican male. There’s been a red carpet of privilege laid out in front of me, which I may have rejected and avoided in some ways, but it’s still there, allowing me a kind of security I now know just isn’t part of life for many others.

But with or without a dramatic odyssey, I think I’ve become increasingly open to the diversity of possibilities on the gender continuum, affirming them all, even as I sometimes struggle to keep up with the appropriate “best practices,” if you will.

And I am certainly aware that there are far too many folks who look a lot like me who have not yet moved many inches at all in an inclusive direction, who even aggressively hold onto narrow values and give them expression in ways that demean and deny the humanity of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender persons. I would name such behavior as evil.

It can be outright evil—insidious, vicious, bigoted, obvious. And it can be subtle evil, even without any intention to offend—behavior born of near-sighted fear or inexperience that nonetheless oppresses. It all adds up to noxious fumes inhaled daily by LGBT persons in America, with even a pungent whiff sometimes here in our congregation. And it hurts. So we are called to do what we can to alter such conditions and improve the odds for a culture and world which affirm the right of all people to self-determination in matters of conscience and identity.

There are numerous kinds of oppressions in our culture—probably in most cultures—all of which deserve scrutiny and reform. Throughout the progressive religious history of Unitarian Universalism, this been one of our calling cards: scrutiny and reform. We activate our human reasoning abilities and set about “piercing evil’s new disguises,” as described by hymnodist Brian Wren [#23, Bring Many Names]. That said, our religious forebears have also dragged their feet too frequently, distressingly so.

For it is true, evil abides and evolves. Yes, it hides anew in contemporary cloaks and it can also be exposed anew with growing intention, awareness and conviction. There is, even in the face of continuing harshness, a steady stream of heartening advances that provide great hope, as does the fact that I—a tall, white, hetero, EuroAmerican male— have traveled the distance I have in my own posture. Once classically homophobic, and still with my own continuing weaknesses, I am now proud to at least be considered an ally of LGBT persons.

But don’t take my word for this. I was happily surprised by the UU congregation I first served in the Seattle suburbs, when, at the end of my decade with them, I was publicly presented with a clear glass plaque by one of the leaders of the Welcoming Congregation Committee there. In etched lettering, it declares me “an honorary gay man.” I felt like saying, “I am not worthy!” But I was very honored.

I’m not as conscious about this realm as I’d like to be, but I’m actively trying to find a new equilibrium around gender assumptions, so that I can honor the authentic journeys of all people, including those who don’t fit into the mainstream.

Speaking of the mainstream, I was raised in it—in a New Jersey suburb during the 1950s and 60s. I attended the full scope of a single Unitarian church school there and as a teenager, I was impacted by many of that era’s ambitious socio-political campaigns, often led by people from my congregation. None of them, however, addressed the dominant heterosexism that unconsciously pervaded my life. (Hetereosexism is “beliefs and practices based on heterosexuality as the only acceptable and healthy sexual orientation” [from the Welcoming Congregation Handbook].) As is true with many biases, I grew up homophobic without really knowing anything about it.

It was not gays, per se, as much as the possibility of gayness that got my attention early on. I had virtually zero experience with any gender diversity—at least that I was aware of —but I recall participating in various adolescent schoolyard remarks aimed not just at boys of allegedly dubious maleness, but at any boy who could be targeted for any reason. A fierce questioning of his sexuality was designed to diminish him, or get a rise out of him, or establish us as better because we were able to dominate.

I understood this sad process because, as a gangly and decidedly un-streetwise kid, I was also regularly targeted myself. Until 6th grade I lived in a pretty rough neighborhood and I tried to learn a lesson many boys still learn: that the best way to avoid being abused was to abuse others first. It was not in my nature, however, and it clashed with the values I was taught in church school, so I was pretty bad at it, and remained mostly on the receiving end of bullies. But along the way I certainly internalized a hostility to “gayness” and fostered a persistent fear of being associated therewith, even well into high school.

Not only was this widespread homophobic behavior accepted by nearby adults, it was encouraged and modeled by them, especially gym teachers—who may also suffer from unfair stereotyping, but in my experience they contributed a lot to the harsh, homophobic atmosphere of the schoolyard. In retrospect it seems so primitive, but it still goes on. The evil abides. And it hurts.

My essential education away from this oppressive posturing corresponds in time with the advent of UU General Assembly Resolutions affirming the dignity of gays and lesbians. (The first such declaration came in 1970, a year after I graduated from high school.) In my young adulthood, and primarily in UU camp and youth conference settings, I heard of and watched a considerably different attitude than I had learned in school. I was unaware of the UU Resolution, per se, but the inclusive philosophy it announced was demonstrated by a growing number of people around me.

I was not directly attached to a congregation during most of my young adulthood (a sadly familiar situation), so UUism for me was camps and conferences, mostly in the Northeast. In these vibrant communities I worked with and became close to people who were—gasp!—gay, lesbian, and bisexual. Often our relationship was well under way before I discovered that their orientation was different than I had assumed.

At first when this would happen—my “discovery”—I was taken aback and hesitant. But being a good homebred UU, I applied my well-taught reasoning ability and concluded that it just wasn’t anything that should change our friendship, or lessen my respect for their work. I gradually came to understand that there were all kinds of gays and lesbians, quite reflective of the vast variety in the rest of us. Eventually I figured out that assuming anyone was heterosexual was a very limiting mistake.

But Reasoning is not Behaving. I could make internal philosophical adjustments fine; it was a more daunting task to change my own deeply conditioned and stereotypical responses. I may be rarely surprised anymore to learn of another’s different gender identity, but I still find myself assuming most people I meet are heterosexual, even when there may be no real evidence one way or the other.

And actually, it isn’t “one way or the other,” anyway. There is a broad gender continuum, with lots of possible locations for people to be in order to be fully themselves. This realm of realization—that there are more than two genders, for instance—has been a large leap for me, and I’m sure I still don’t have it all down. But I’m trying and I feel like I’m growing in the right direction, at least, which is important.

Because I want to be more a part of the solution than the problem. And if the problem is oppression of sexual minorities, part of the solution is for individuals like me to foster an appreciative inclusivity that supports all people to be fully themselves without fear of rejection because of their identity.

I attribute my relative advances in this direction to two general activities. One is my willing openness to consider the perspective of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender persons. I’ve tried to read about and listen to their stories and their teachings. The courageous people who have stepped up and spoken out have my great respect, not to mention gratitude.

I remember some years back, when I was finally ready to approach the transgender concept, I did some reading, okay, but I didn’t want it to be just an academic study. So at our large, annual UU General Assembly gatherings each June, I looked for and attended all the workshops I could find that addressed transgender issues, especially panels that featured testimonials, and this was extremely helpful.

But perhaps my most powerful personal experience was early in 1997, when (spouse and co-minister) Barbara and I were on sabbatical and teaching a practicum class at Starr King School for (UU) Ministry (my alma mater in Berkeley, CA). Halfway through the course, one of the less effective students in the class, who would often be late and unresponsive, declared that she was now a he and asked the Starr King community for support, which came readily.

We noticed right away that he instantly transformed into an A student, essentially going quickly to the head of the class. His participation and comments and written work were suddenly excellent, and we came to understand that the change in gender allowed him to be so much more fully who he was that he could relax and concentrate better. Without the inner conflict draining “her,” he was able to bring his natural skills to the fore.

Then I learned another important thing or two during the year we spent in Colorado as interim ministers. A male-to-female transsexual was on the search committee that brought us to that congregation and she was very willing to tell about her experiences and struggles. She saw her role as an educator, a spokesperson who could help others understand that culture and its issues. She was generous and gracious in helping us know a lot more about what life was like for her and her friends—such as painful rejection by family, difficulty getting and keeping decent jobs, the importance of others in the transgender community, and the great sadnesses therein.

Largely because of her impact on us, we decided to host a December holiday party for the relatively small, but significant transgender community active at or connected to the church, many of whom had no family with whom to celebrate the season. She helped invite folks and we made sure a board member was also present, since, as interim ministers, we were not going to be around there more than that year. At one point we asked those who came to tell us some of their stories and for a couple hours, amid egg nog and evergreens, our living room throbbed with very stirring narratives.

But one of their transsexual friends who was also active in the congregation would not come, and we discovered she had a very different attitude than the educator from our search committee. This was a woman who came to church every Sunday and yet worked as a man elsewhere in the city during the week. Each identity was separate and she didn’t want to talk about it at all. She just wanted to be related to at church as a woman, which she was.

So a very important lesson was driven home to me—again. Much as I had already come to know that gay and lesbian people were just as varied in their attitudes and stories as any other set of people, so was there great diversity within the transgender community. And I realized I should question or at least test my assumptions at almost every turn.

This sounds, now, rather elementary: people are different, even in minority groups—duh! But until I had some actual relationships, first with gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and then with transsexuals, it was not very real to me. Once I knew faces and stories and heard first hand about the trials and joys of these diverse and challenging paths, I had to change. I had to add more inclusive behaviors that were coherent with what I now could integrate into my own experience.

I suspect this may be the case with most of us heterosexuals. Relationships make the difference. If one’s conditioned homophobia never gets tested by the presence of a real person who is clearly worthy of inherent dignity, well, then it’s relatively easy to keep it abstract, to stay unaware of complexity, and to hold onto an ideologically hostile or ignorant position.

And as much as it was a stretch for me at first, it was also not all that hard, really, and soon the sexual diversity around me just became less of an issue, although I still always need to stay alert for my own complicities with systemic oppression that continues to poison the cultural environment for my non-hetero friends and neighbors. The least I can do is be an ally.

Which brings me to the second activity that has moved me along on my journey. Many important relationships along with my grounding in UU Principles have encouraged my own articulation against discrimination toward sexual minorities. When opportunities present themselves, I try my best to weigh in on the side of inclusion and safety, although I often still feel pretty weak at it. I think—and hope—I have unlearned the inappropriate conditioning of my childhood and now I see that interrupting evil—obvious or subtle evil —also really matters.

During that one year Barbara and I ministered in Colorado, we dealt with aftermaths from both the hateful murder of Matthew Shepard in nearby Wyoming in the fall, and the Columbine High School shootings in the county next to us in the spring. Proximity to these horrific events brought home to me the great need for more voices of both affirmation and challenge—affirmation of those who don’t fit into mainstream stereotypes, and the challenge of hateful behaviors that demean and sometimes destroy others.

Can we conquer the all-too-human tendency to deny and dismiss what is different? This is the deeper demand suggested by the easily-mouthed platitude, “Let there be peace and let it begin with me.” Just how much can we be at peace with difference, or will we succumb to fearful rejection of what is uncomfortably unfamiliar?

And can we adjust our cultural institutions to reflect a greater peace among diversity? Countering systemic oppression is even trickier than changing interpersonal prejudice. But what an interesting time we’re living in, now the year 2006! Our state of Maryland has its regressive elements, with an obstructive governor, but compared to Virginia, we are positively enlightened.

You may have seen the Dec. 18 2005 Washington Post Magazine cover story about two UU women, Barbara and Tibby, who very visibly moved from Fredericksburg, VA, to Frederick, MD, to avoid the regressive anti-gay legislation underway down there, and so they might be more able to legally tend to each other as they age.  Their story was made into a compelling video, called “Love Story in the Face of Hate.”

Barbara and Tibby may feel safer in Maryland, for the moment, but we’ve also got our own work to do here. One battle is to prevent a new State Constitutional Amendment from enshrining in law discrimination against people like them, who just want to have the legal rights every committed couple deserve. Such exclusive action, often called a “Defense of Marriage Act,” has been successful in 37 other states and right wing forces are aiming at Maryland, too.

A recent letter signed by almost 200 clergy, including us and most UU ministers in this state, is headed to the Maryland General Assembly, expressing strong opposition to any constitutional change that would ban same-sex civil marriage. “We believe that it is morally wrong to place the civil rights of a group of our citizenry up for a popular vote,” the letter says, among other things.

There’s also a lawsuit currently underway in Maryland challenging the exclusive civil marriage system on behalf of nine other couples, in similar fashion to the successful suit that opened up Massachusetts to more kinds of civil unions. The lawsuit here also charges that excluding same-sex couples from civil union violates the state constitution’s guarantees of equality.

There are lots of political dynamics that need our support, in one way or another, from advocacy in Annapolis to interrupting homophobic expression when it rears its ugly head locally. A strong and effective organization called EqualityMaryland [which merged with FreeState Justice in 2016] is the focal point for much productive activism, including an excellent, informative and inspiring website.

There are struggles and setbacks, to be sure, but there is also great reason to think we are the ones at this very moment in history who can help turn things toward the Good and the Just. Did you hear about British Prime Minister Tony Blair congratulating Sir Elton John on his civil union a couple weeks ago? Or that South Africa and Northern Ireland have now also legalized civil unions?

Closer to home, EqualityMaryland reports that “the Majority Leader of the Maryland House, during debate on passage of the gender-inclusive Hate Crimes Law, stated simply that even if there were only one transgender person in Maryland, we would be obligated as a community to stand up and protect that person’s rights. We all deserve to live free and without fear in our homes, workplaces, and the streets of our neighborhoods.” Huzzah to that!

And huzzah to State Delegate Doyle Niemann, UU, who vocally advocated last year for another gender-inclusive bill, the Medical Decision Making Act, which would have made it possible for gay couples to more fully participate in each other’s health care and end-of-life decisions—but it was blocked by Governor Ehrlich, at least for now.

As an ally, I start with myself and then reach out to share my growing perspective and commitment. I do this in hope and faith that the momentum will also grow and our world will change for the better. “Let there be peace and let it begin with me.” I’m on a journey and can’t pretend to be free of heterosexism yet, but I have noticed a freedom from old habits that used to bind up my heart. What matters most, ultimately, is the love we leave behind.

Thea Nietfeld

LGBTQ Movement in the Salina, Kansas, Fellowship

When I moved back to my home state of Kansas in 2009, I began providing monthly pulpit supply at the Salina Fellowship.  I moved to Salina in 2011 and retired from congregational ministry in 2016.  During these years, I intentionally supported LGBTQ members personally and politically.  I directly encouraged leaders in Equality Kansas and participated in meetings and political activities as appropriate.  I officiated at LGBTQ weddings before and after Marriage Equality and did pre-marital counseling.

Our congregation developed the community reputation of being not only safe but also strong and steady allies.  Members were increasingly proud of our Fellowship’s support and visibility around LGBTQ concerns.

Immediately after the Supreme Court decision, two lesbian couples sought marriage licenses in advance of ceremonies at our building.  When the local marriage registrar balked,  a well-connected UU lawyer made the call that kept things moving.

We printed up cards publicizing that the Salina UU Fellowship was eager to have LGBT weddings; what good was a legal right if there was no place to have a wedding?  We were one of the few locations in central Kansas for a gay wedding.

While I had worked on Equality since 1990 during Seminary, it was the Salina Fellowship that was the most satisfying engagement because of the particular needs and people involved.

 

Remarks About Gay Pride

A Homily Delivered by Doddie Stone

Mount Diablo Church, Walnut Creek, CA
June 26, 1988

(Note:  This was Doddie’s “coming out” sermon to the congregation where she was a member.)

a coming out story would be
a chronicle of all the days of all my lives
it seems there is either nothing to tell,
or far too much
how can i possibly capture any of it
stop the flow
march it out in lines for all to see and know
i am always coming out
endlessly unfolding on an infinite number of levels
i struggle and persist.

– Constance Faye (“Come Again”)

On this day, as they have for many years, the closets of Contra Costa County will open and gay men and women will travel to San Francisco to be part of the annual Gay Pride parade.  They’ll watch from the sidelines, join in the crowds as the parade wraps itself around the watchers, or they will openly march with one of the contingents proclaiming GAY IS GOOD.

When the day is over the weary revelers will take BART back to Contra Costa and most of them will go back into their closets.  Then, except for occasional visits and conversations with trusted friends, the closet door will stay almost shut for most of the hidden “gays” within our community.  Because Contra Costa is not the most sympathetic place to live in an openly gay relationship, men and women will try to hide behind masks and labels to attempt to “fit” in our suburban, traditional, nuclear family-oriented community.

It’s not so difficult to hide (or think you’re hiding) if you find enough labels to complete the disguise.  It’s very useful to proclaim the labels of husband, wife, mother, father, grandmother or grandfather if those experiences have also been part of your life.  You can even use the labels of liberal organizations and support the causes of gay rights by claiming membership in the National Organization for Women, the American Civil Liberties Union — or even the Mt.  Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church, especially when you hold titles of responsibility like “Social Action Chair.”  One can continue for many years or even a lifetime withholding the sharing of self by simply relying on the most useful label of all — “Some of my best friends are…”

But there comes a time when the labels and masks seem to be exactly that — a way of hiding, creating barriers to stop the full expression of who you want to be and what you consider integrity for your own life.  When that time comes, you realize, AS I DID, that you aren’t really fooling anyone except yourself, and you come to understand that if you really want to stand up and be counted, you begin to work close to home, as well as far away in Central America, to speak against injustice and oppression wherever you see them operating.

When David Fanning asked me to share in this service, I don’t think he knew what an opportunity for a giant leap of personal growth he was offering me.  But when I said yes, I knew I was making a decision to come forward that was even scarier to me than being arrested in El Salvador or crawling under a barricade at the Concord Naval Weapons Station.  And I’m still very aware as I stand in this place that I don’t want the new labels to interfere with how I relate to students in my classroom or associates on my staff in my regular job.

Yet it has finally dawned on me that as I approach the age of 53, I can’t wait till I grow up to try to live to my full potential.  I can no longer let my father’s words of 20 years ago — “I hope you don’t have any of those tendencies” — be a barrier to expressing my caring and my relationship to all those I come in contact with — both men and women.

For I do have those tendencies and those tendencies have shaped and influenced my life so that I am deeply touched by the pain and sorrow as well as the joys and strengths of my sisters and my brothers wherever I travel in this ever-shrinking world.  I know that what affects one of us affects all of us, for we are one family sharing this time and space together on planet Earth.

I am very grateful to be a member of this denomination at this time in my life.  I am still filled to the brim and overflowing with the experiences of this past week as I participated as one of our delegates to our General Assembly in Palm Springs.  I am proud to at last belong to a church that seeks to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  (I know at the same time that it isn’t a simple task to experience acceptance of one another, for I also learned at that same General Assembly that the survey in our UU World magazine last fall on attitudes towards homosexuality revealed that about 1500 — or approximately half of the 3000 responses — still showed evidence of much homophobia in many of our congregations across this continent.)

But I also know that as we covenant to affirm and promote “the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all,” we all grow as we attempt to understand and eradicate the injustices of our own back yard beginning right here in Walnut Creek, inside this very room.

Our congregation voted to be a sanctuary church — a safe haven for those who were fleeing unjust persecution in their homelands.  We took in a family to live in our front yard and we continue to give our money and our time to speak loudly for human rights.  I firmly believe that there are those here in Contra Costa County who need this church to be their sanctuary also — a place where they can come and be safe against prejudice and persecution from those who consider it a crime to express love for someone of the same sex — a place where all men and women can be validated for expressing caring for one another regardless of the gender of the lover or the beloved.  And I want to be part of that community, both offering and receiving sanctuary.

What  are the rewards for opening our hearts and doors for such a sanctuary?  Just very simply that we each grow as we are touched by one another — as individuals, as members of MDUUC, and as living beings in the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part.

I would leave you with one last thought contained in a poem by Richard S. Gilbert.  “May we not close our doors on those we do not know or would not know.  May our doors be open to all, because someday through them might walk a friend.”

Responsive Blessing for a Same-Sex Couple Commitment Ceremony

LEADER: Because our love for one another is often not recognized, because our commitments are not yet legal,

ALL: We witness your commitment to one another. We validate your love, and support you in your lives together. We testify that today you have bravely formed an authentic bond, worthy of respect.

LEADER: Because our families often reject us,

ALL: We accept you as a new family. We will appreciate and respect our new families on par with the old. We admire your courage and cherish you as a family.

LEADER: Because we are often made invisible, because our history is often hidden, altered or destroyed,

ALL: We celebrate the beauty of this ceremony and your love. We will remember and celebrate the anniversary of this day. We will document our lives together.

LEADER: Because we have often been attacked by hatred, because we have often been ridiculed as crazy, deluded, or sick,

ALL: We vow to protect you as a couple. We will nourish and defend your love for each other. We will shelter one another from those who hate. Our shield will be forged from our openness to ourselves and to our love.

LEADER: Because we so often internalize oppression in self-destructive behaviors,

ALL: We will share truths with one another. We will help you realize your goals of personal growth toward self-love and value.

LEADER: We give thanks for the joy of this day, deeper than human words; for the strength of this moment and the graceful presence of a beloved community; and for the powerful embrace of human hearts.

ALL: Let us dance our dreams together from this day forward.
Let us say what we know as truth from this day forward.

Let us help one another speak of love from this day forward.
Let us enter into new covenants for tomorrow.

We will not be afraid. We will not be afraid.

We will celebrate life together!

Report to the 1987 General Assembly

From the report of Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz
UUA President, to the 1987 General Assembly:

We Unitarian Universalists have been the religious leaders in [the area of gay and lesbian rights]:  in our establishment of a denominational office; in our support of ministers who perform services of holy union. But at the moment our values and principles are being sorely tested: not just by prejudice from outside our doors but by homophobia from within. Let me put it as directly as I can:  far too many of our congregations are choosing not to call or even to consider gay or lesbian ministers solely on the basis of their affectional orientation. When we hear questions like these posed about gay or lesbian candidates — “But will she talk about anything other than homosexuality? But will we become a ‘gay church’? But will he be able to counsel heterosexuals? But will the community accept her?” — when we hear questions like these, we know we are in the grip of a profound terror. Now I do not want to be self-righteous here. The fear of same-sex love runs deep in Western culture. But I beg us to understand that if such fear is permitted to control us, we will be in violation of everything which Unitarian Universalism stands for in the world. It is not enough to say passively and self-contentedly, “Why, of course gays and lesbians are welcome in our congregation if they choose to come.” What is required is the recognition that gay and lesbian people are already members of every single congregation on this continent. The issue is whether they feel supported enough to make their presence known. What we require is the courage and wisdom to acknowledge our own fears, both gay and straight, and to take active steps to make the welcome known to the gay and lesbian community.

Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Statement of Concern 2002

Issued at Convocation in Birmingham, Alabama

March 10, 2002

During Convo, with the leadership of Alabama Unitarian Universalist ministers, we issued a statement of concern about recent homophobic comments by Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Supreme Court of Alabama.  Kendyl Gibbons, acting in her role as UUMA President, invited those assembled at Convocation to endorse the following statement, initially formulated by the Rev. Karen Matteson of Birmingham and developed further with input from the UUMA Exec, John Hurley, and Meg Riley.  Although a formal meeting of the UUMA was not convened, those present overwhelmingly endorsed the statement and later, in an offering received during the Closing Celebration, contributed more than $4,000 to a fund to continue the struggle against official and unofficial homophobia in Alabama.

We Unitarian Universalist ministers, gathered in convocation in Birmingham, Alabama, are compelled by our religious beliefs to speak out in opposition to the recent homophobic comments of Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Supreme Court of Alabama.

Unitarian Universalism affirms the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and our faith tradition has long been a strong supporter of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.  Judge Moore’s description of homosexuality as “an inherent evil,” “abhorrent,” “immoral,” and “detestable,” and his suggestion that execution is an appropriate penalty for gay people, are shameful expressions of bigotry and hatred.  As clergy people, we are called to condemn such hateful and divisive comments, especially when expressed by a person in a position of civic leadership and trust.

We Unitarian Universalist ministers are proud that our faith tradition has long ordained openly gay and lesbian ministers.  We are deeply concerned that Judge Moore’s comments have created a climate of fear for gay and lesbian citizens of Alabama as well as visitors to this state.  More than 450 Unitarian Universalist ministers have gathered here in Birmingham for the past several days, but we, and many groups who share our concern for equal rights for all citizens, will have second thoughts about convening our meetings in a state characterized by the oppression of its gay and lesbian citizens.  Let it be very clear that we condemn the legitimizing of hatred and the oppression of a significant part of our population.

Almost four decades ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from a jail cell here in Birmingham words that apply today:  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Just as Unitarian Universalists worked for the equal rights for African Americans during the civil rights movement and beyond, we pledge our support to the struggle for civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens of our country.

As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that it is homophobia that is the sin, not homosexuality.  We encourage the citizens of Alabama to oppose Judge Moore and those who think and act in like manner, to work to change existing laws that criminalize private sexual expression between consenting adults; to reach out in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people; and to make Alabama a safe place to live, work, and worship for all people.

“Let it be very clear that we condemn the legitimizing of hatred and the oppression of a significant part of our population.”

Interview with Rev. Richard Kellaway

Interview presumably conducted by Lee Paczulla

December 6, 2010

Q: Was the issue of homosexuality already being talked about within the congregation when you were called to serve as minister? If not, how did it come up?

A: When I first came to the church, it didn’t come up in the search process – but after I appeared, a member who had been absent for a few years came back; apparently he felt comfortable with me.  Ed Clifton was quite open about being gay, he was not partnered, and it was no big deal.  Ed was a cantankerous kind of fellow.

So… the precipitating incident:  I was sitting in my office on the second floor when Edith Mannheimer called and said “There’s a young man down here who demands to see you.”  So a young man walks in door and says, “I am Craig Schoonmaker, president of Homosexuals Intransigent at Columbia University, and I demand to use your space.”  [I replied] “I am sympathetic, but cannot personally grant any group the right to meet in the church.”  He demanded, and again, I said “I am empathetic, but I have to talk with the Board.”  “Well,” he said, “if we can’t meet here, we’re going to picket the church” and I said “Really?”

At that point any news was good news – nothing would be better than to have a picket line in front of the church, calling attention to us.  So he went away, and I went to the Board, and what emerged from this is that we decided we ought to engage the congregation in talking about all of this.

We found a lovely woman, an out lesbian and a UU, who was going around to congregations if invited… Julie somebody… and we must have invited a gay man as well, who may not have been UU… and we had a very productive conversation.  The consensus was they can meet here if they want to.

Then various people began to emerge who had been longstanding members of the congregation – Elizabeth Parmelee was born into the church, in her late 60s at the time, and was headmistress of very prestigious school on the West End, part of a very prominent family – and she had a lesbian partner.  Ed Pease was another.  I knew about his partner, and he had neither denied nor affirmed that he was gay.  He wasn’t proclaiming it, but if you thought that he was, that was fine with him.

Various people began to come out of the closet, not vociferously, but they let it be known – the point is all those years, as far as I can see, no one had ever noticed.  Then there was the rather outspoken former chair of the Board, Roland Gammon, who was more of a supporter; a psychiatrist who knew him said “There’s a clear example of a forced heterosexual.”  I’m not sure if they [Homosexuals Intransigent] ever actually did meet there, but I know another group did and it was all very easy and comfortable.  There was never a serious controversy in the church at all; whether anybody drifted away because of that, I don’t know, but I can’t remember anyone.

I think what I can say is that Ed Clifton was the person who was vociferously out, and it didn’t seem to bother anybody; there was a sense that “that’s fine.”  Ed Pease didn’t hide his homosexuality, but didn’t proclaim it, and only after the Schoonmaker incident did it become clear to me that Elizabeth [Parmelee] and Bee were a lesbian couple.  There were some others around whose names I don’t remember… the point being that we thought we were a pretty relaxed and tolerant group already, therefore we didn’t feel a need to do anything specific.  Part of the lesson that began to emerge after a while was that it’s not enough to say “all are welcome;” you sometimes have to say directly that “GLBT people are welcome.”

Q. Was there any awareness at all of the Stonewall riots within the congregation?

A. Certainly we were all aware of it. I guess I went there in the Fall of 1969, but I don’t remember it being a congregational conversation; it might have been coffee hour conversation, but I don’t remember us as a result saying we ought to do anything.

Q. What was the reception like to your earliest sermons on the issue (the “Men’s Liberation” sermon in May of 1970, and the sermon with Rev. Nash speaking afterwards in November of 1971)? What about the newsletter notes of the same period?

A. I’m sure there were about a half dozen people who were maybe uneasy. I remember a couple that was – well – he was a professional waiter, a perfectly nice guy, but in social class terms they came from a very conservative, Italian background.  Then I think of a couple of other people who probably weren’t too happy about it.  When people see the majority affirming something, then they’re not going to stand up and say “I object”  – they’re either going to sulk or just not come in as much as they did before.  But I don’t remember any active resistance.

There’s a footnote story here which is that Anthony Marshall joined the church somewhere in the middle of all this, that is after we’d gone through the issue of the conversation and stuff, and quickly became a leading member, terrific guy.  And I can remember Ed Pease saying “I wonder when Tony’s going to come out of the closet.”  Tony didn’t come out of the closet.  Having lost contact for a decade, we re-established contact with him in Florida.  We went over to see him three or four times and on the fourth or fifth time, he said “Guess what?  I’m gay!  I never knew it!”  – and I believed him.  I realized I may have encountered people who are basically homosexual but somehow it just doesn’t come into consciousness until the middle of life.

Q. Right after Rev. Nash was invited to speak at the church, a group called the UU Gay Fellowship was organized and met through only one church year according to the records, from ’71-‘72. What precipitated the invitation to Nash, and was the formation of the group planned, or inspired by the service? Do you remember why the group stopped meeting?

A. I knew Dick Nash, and liked him, but I don’t know where that precipitated – we were still wrestling with the issue at that time. I don’t think it was a matter of any controversy [that the UU Gay Fellowship stopped meeting]; but some of our visibly gay and lesbian members had no desire to be part of a group.  It was probably very important in the history of gay and lesbian things that there are people who affirm and celebrate their gayness – they want the world to know – and there are other people who are hiding it, who say we don’t need a group, we have our friends, gay and straight, it’s just one more meeting for what purpose?  But certainly the church was known as welcoming; we took referrals from other ministers.  So the word was around.

Q. What do you remember about a group called the Gay Women’s Alternative, founded by Jean Powers in 1973? The group’s meetings weren’t advertised nearly as much as the UU Gay Fellowship – do you know why this might have been?

A. I haven’t thought of that name [Jean Powers] for at least 30 years. I don’t remember anything about the group.  I think what I would guess is that she probably came to me and said, “We want to do this” and I said “Sure.”  What I remember is that she was not the kind of person where I would want to join a group that she was leading.  The wonderful woman who came earlier, Julie, was so warm and affirmative, whereas Jean was sort of a formidable woman who seemed very tough.  That doesn’t mean she was, but I would make a personal statement:  with Julie I’d like to get to know her better, with Jean I don’t particularly want to be your pal.  The point of making that statement is that if I reacted that way, it’s possible that women reacted that way, and that in fact she hoped to start something that didn’t catch on.

Q. One thing I discovered about Ed Clifton in the archives was that he was part of a group called the Extended Family – can you tell me more about this group?

A .  This was one of my initiatives – the idea was we had a lot of single people, older people who are widowed perhaps, and there were relatively few children in the church.  It was not my bright idea alone, this was a thing that was happening in other congregations, comparable to a small group ministry kind of thing, to give people an opportunity to get together socially, outside of church.  There were 15-20 of us, and we’d get together once a month; my children were there, the only children.

Ed was very visibly part of that, and was exactly the kind of person that we wanted it to be for, in the sense of a person living on his own who valued social contact but didn’t have much of it outside of the congregation.  One of the interesting stories is that our son, who must have been 8 or 9 years old, came home at some point and said “I hate those fags.”  And my wife at that point said to him, “Do you know that your uncle Ed is a fag?”  “Huh?”  People accept the ones they know; it was a great lesson for my son, to be told that he actually knew a real live homosexual and spent a lot of time with him.

Q. How much do you remember about how homosexuality was addressed at other churches in New York City during this time?

A. Well Donald Harrington [at Community Church] was known as homophobic. The one thing I remember was over a different issue, the Black Empowerment movement.  Winifred Norman visibly left and came to our church, because Donald was an ardent integrationist – but I also have a hunch that Winnie was a lesbian, she never married, never had a visible partner.

There’s another name…  an African-American woman who was very active in the church.  She had a live-in partner who was not a part of our church but would show up from time to time, but I don’t think they left Community for us.

The minister of All Souls Church at that time, Walter Cring – I knew him, liked him, he was personally a pretty conservative type, didn’t want to make waves.

Brooklyn would have been relatively supportive; the minister was a very good guy at the forefront of the black empowerment movement…  I would think he’d be a very strong supporter of gay rights.

Read the interview with Ed Pease

Homosexuality at Fourth Universalist Church:  An Interview with Edmund Pease

Submitted by Rev.  Richard A.  Kellaway, minister at Fourth Universalist Church from 1968 to 1973.

(At that time, the church was called The Universalist Church of New York City.)

The interview was presumably conducted by Lee Paczulla when she was a student at Harvard Divinity School.  Edmund Pease was a member of the church. 

Q:  Was there any public conversation on homosexuality at Fourth Universalist prior to Rev.  Kellaway’s sermons and statements addressing the issue?

A:  It was non-existent… There was no conversation.  Of all of the people that were formally active in Ciarcia’s [Rev.  Albert F.  Ciarcia, 1955-56] ministry of a couple of years, and Ray Baughn’s (Rev.  Raymond J.  Baughn, 1957-58] ministry of less than a year, my estimate is that probably about 40% of that group was gay, but it was never talked about.  This group was looked at in the congregation as “the young people,” the younger generation.

I first visited the church in the spring of 1955, and the congregation was very, very small – maybe 35-45 people, mostly older.  At that first meeting, which was the last church session before closing for the summer in June, Ed Clifton invited 3 people home to have lunch with him.  We spent the afternoon with him talking.  Of that group, I was one; the others were a schoolteacher from Pennsylvania who was at that time studying at teacher’s college; and a young novelist, a native of Massachusetts and graduate of Antioch, who was living in New York and making his living as a psychiatric social worker in a mental hospital.  The three of us spent that whole afternoon talking.  Although not acknowledged at the time, it turned out later that two of us were gay, the teacher from Pennsylvania and myself.

As Richard [Kellaway] said, Ed Clifton was always very open about his sexuality, which was somewhat resented by the older people in the church who would say, “Why do you have to talk about it?  We really don’t care.”  Soon after publishing his first book, the Antioch graduate got married to a very quiet girl from a very low class background.  Eight months after Frank got married, he committed suicide, which was suspected to be related to unresolved issues regarding his sexuality.

At that time, in 1955-56, Fourth U was a small congregation, and the Board of Trustees was all men; six men, all very conservative and older.  Hartford Beaumont, who was for many years Chairman of the Board, was a retired lawyer with Sterling & Sterling; he was an arch conservative, far right, very Joe McCarthy-type anti-Communist.  Another member of the Board was Colonel Wilson, the former military mayor of Seoul during the occupation after the Korean War.  He also was far right, very, very conservative.  A pretty good guy, old and a little bit crotchety, was Mr.  Powers, a former editor of the New York Times, who lived in Queens and would commute in to church.  Also Alan Spicer, a retired executive at AT&T.  Another member of the Board at that time, who subsequently became chairman, was Roland Gammon, a public relations person, who had his own firm.  Prior to that he was the public relations officer based in New York for the Council of Liberal Churches, the umbrella organization for the AUA & UCA prior to the UUA merger in 1961.  And all of these people just continued on forever; there was no turnover on the Board – if there were elections, they all stayed in.

There was a kind of stifling atmosphere at the church in the mid 1950’s, when Ciarcia came for a ministry of a couple years.  Things began to pick up as new people were attracted.  Rev.  Ciarcia was a graduate of St.  Lawrence, and a lot of recent graduates of St.  Lawrence, young professionals working in the city, started to show up and that was the beginning of the building of a younger group of people.  Of that group, I would say that something like 40% of them were known among ourselves to be gay.

The first break came when one gay member was elected to the Board of Trustees, Bill Lang… I don’t remember how that came about, whether somebody else retired.  Bill’s partner, Henry, was Jewish; although he came to social functions, he was not a functioning member of the congregation.  And very soon after that, I was nominated for the Board of Trustees of the New York State Convention of Universalists.  I guess maybe this was initiated by Ciarcia, or maybe because I wrote an essay on “Why I Am a Universalist” that appeared in the church newsletter (edited by old Hartford Beaumont) and later reprinted in a denominational publication.  But anyway, I was elected, I think, in 1958, and the next year when the annual convention was to be held in New York City, I was put on the program committee for the annual meeting, acting as liaison with the church.

The controversy that developed in the church at that time (when Ray Baughn was minister) had nothing to do with issues of sexuality, but is interesting in regard to issues of congregational polity.  The divisions were between liberal values and repressive tactics motivated by right wing political values and anti-communist fears left over from the McCarthy era.

The Convention Program Committee had voted to invite as keynote speaker Pierre van Paassen, a well-known liberal writer and journalist (who was also an ordained Unitarian minister and happened to live in the old Ansonia Hotel, a few blocks from the church).  George Kovaka of Buffalo (Vice President of the Convention & Chair of its Program Committee) made the initial contact with Van Paassen, and then asked Ray Baughn to follow up arranging details for his appearance at the church for the fall annual meeting of the Convention.  That’s when all hell broke loose!  Colonel Wilson egged on Hartford Beaumont to intervene to prevent Van Paassen’s appearance, alleging that he had communist leanings

Although this misdirected power play by “church leaders” (without support of the congregation, and opposed by the minister) ultimately failed, great damage was done.  Ironically these events catapulted me into denominational politics.

George Kovaka got so fed up with this kind of interference that he resigned from the New York State Convention of Universalists and recommended that I take his place as Vice President.  Very soon after joining the Board, I became Vice President when I was  perhaps 23 years old.  Subsequently I was elected President of the Universalist Convention when I was 25 and first took my seat on the UUA Board when I was 27.  (I always wondered:  would the same thing have happened if it were known at the time that I was a gay man?)

Q:  Considering your estimate that maybe 40% of the younger contingent at the church was gay or lesbian, would you say Fourth Universalist had a reputation as something of a haven for gays and lesbians even before the 1970s?  Was this sort of gay community common in other Unitarian or Universalist churches at the time, or other New York City churches in general?

A:  I don’t know if it was really known then as a gay or lesbian haven.  Except for Ed Clifton, everyone was essentially in the closet.  The congregation was conservative politically and theologically, even for a humanist person.  I don’t want to say, “not respected,” but there was not an overwhelming welcoming feeling.  Community Church was much more liberal theologically, although Harrington (Rev.  Donald S.  Harrington, 1944-82) called himself a theist.  All Souls was very definitely theistic.  Don McKinney (Rev.  Donald W.  McKinney, 1952-1992) was minister at the Brooklyn Unitarian Church, and that was the most open congregation theologically.  But at All Souls in Manhattan and Community Church, gay people wouldn’t have felt particularly comfortable at that time.  They probably felt somewhat more comfortable at a small congregation of mainly older people at the Universalist Church.

Q:  How did Rev.  Leonard Helie (Rev.  Leonard Helie, 1959-67) engage (if at all) with the gay and lesbian community?  Did he talk about or address these issues?  In what way?

A:    Not at all!  Leonard Helie came in under strange circumstances (which are illuminating in terms of church polity).  The church was going through a “search process” that wasn’t really a search process in the traditional sense.  They kept on inviting people to come as guest speakers over a year and a half period, hoping to find somebody, whom they would ask to be candidate for minister — kind of “serial candidating.”  In that process, Helie appeared; he was a friend of Roland Gammon’s.  Leonard Helie was a Harvard graduate; he had a promising start in the ministry in a fairly important church, I think in Roxbury, but things didn’t work out there.  Then he went to Homestead, Florida, sort of in the backwater, where he apparently was going through a divorce or separation at that time.  They couldn’t agree on choosing him as a candidate, but Roland engineered this thing where he became interim “supply minister, while we continue to look ”and that finally led to his becoming minister.

All of the younger people in the church were opposed to him.  When he came and settled, they either just resigned or dropped away or stopped coming.  At that time I had just moved to Brooklyn.

I basically would go to Fourth Universalist for Christmas and Easter services, make a small contribution and attend the Annual Meetings.  But I remained active in denominational affairs; I was attending church at the Brooklyn church at that time, though I never became a member.  Then when Helie left some of us came back, that was when Richard was chosen.  I was on the search committee that chose Richard.  The Helie period was a very, very fallow period, and any gay presence – which was not really overt before that – just disappeared completely during Helie’s ministry.  They stopped attending because they didn’t find Helie’s ministry meeting their needs.  It was just a very fallow period with a few of the old timers hanging on.

Q:  Was there any awareness at all of the Stonewall riots within the congregation?

A:  It was known about, but it was not a topic of much conversation, as Richard said; there was no congregational conversation of it, and very little coffee hour conversation.  There was one couple that lived in Greenwich Village who were great friends of the entire quote “younger” group – or the entire gay group – and I remember talking to them about Stonewall.  Nurak (Ed Pease’s partner) and I used to visit with them frequently, as did Ed Clifton.  Their names were Dot & Doug Anderson; they had a floor-through in a brownstone a couple of blocks from where Stonewall took place.

Q:  Do you remember much about what the reception was like to Rev.  Kellaway’s earliest sermons and newsletter notes on the issue of homosexuality?  From the perspective of a congregant and lay leader – were there any problems or push back from within the congregation to addressing gay and lesbian issues?

A:  There were no problems – but neither was there high visibility.  I don’t know too much about what happened in Schoelfield’s time (Rev.  Joel Schoelfield, 1974-84) , and I was not around during Darryl Berger’s ministry (Rev.  Daryl Berger, 1989-99), but my impression  is that the latter was another period similar to Helie’s time.

As to Richard Kellaway’s ministry, I would characterize it as a period of openness and willingness to try new approaches.  While I would not call his ministry as a period of great visibility for gender-related issues, I think he fostered the right attitude of openness.  I agree with what Richard said about Jean Powers and her small group.  Jean had a personality that was not easy to relate to; she started this group that was always, I assume, quite small, and it was basically dominated by her and petered out.  Even the UU Gay Fellowship, while that was meeting at the church, didn’t have an awful lot of visibility about it either.

But there were other things that Richard did that were opening up, not specifically gender-related.  The big Libmen/Libwomen theme, which was an outside group meeting at the church.  That group brought a lot of younger people to the church – it was mainly a big money making thing for the church.  There were theatre groups meeting there, which undoubtedly included some gay people, and these were all accepted and I think were part of laying the groundwork.

But my perception is that in terms of organized congregational involvement, what was happening in Kellaway’s time is pale if you look at what happened 10 or 15 years later in Montclair, NJ [an early Welcoming Congregation Mr.  Pease later joined].  The feeling was of a lot of talk, and real openness in the Montclair congregation, which was not the impression you would have in Fourth Universalist.  Schoelfield was not a strong minister – not as good a minister as Kellaway was.  He had all of the right attitudes, but again the issue was not visible, and the real blossoming, what I would call comparable to Montclair, really occurred during [Rev.] Rosemary Bray McNatt’s time at Fourth U (2001-2014).

One of the things that Richard did is he brought in a young music director, Michael May – a very talented gay man who did a lot with the musical program.  That involved a lot of gay people coming and being around, although they were outsiders.  Another thing that Richard did was to establish a religious services committee, a small group that he wanted to consult with about programming.  He was the main initiator, but all of us were coming from various perspectives, developing ideas about religious services we wanted to do.  Michael May was on the committee, I was on the committee, Ed Clifton was on the committee, Elizabeth Parmelee was chair at the time, and Lucille Spence was on the committee, so that almost all of the committee was gay people, like about 80%.

Q:  With gay men and lesbians so well represented on various leadership committees in the church, it surprises me that there wasn’t more public talk about homosexuality.  Was the church maybe an accepting place but not necessarily affirming?

A:  It was not demonstrative, no.  Contrast 4th U with the Montclair church, where the Welcoming Congregation committee would meet about every 6 weeks to do planning and they ran a film series every fall.  That committee was probably about 60% gay people, and 40% straight members of the congregation – but all of the members of the Welcoming Congregation committee had special nametags with a rainbow flag and a red ribbon on it, so that anyone coming to the church – like a gay person coming to the church for the first time — could easily search out any of those people to talk to during coffee hour.  It’s a completely different kind of attitude and openness – not openness – Fourth Universalist Church was never closed.  I don’t know how to characterize it, but it’s a very, very different feeling in terms of visibility.

There was much more visibility of gay people in Richard Kellaway’s time – that came because of all these other outreach activities.  There was a former schoolteacher, Lee Austin, who came on staff and was sort of like the rental manager; he managed these outside groups from the point of view of church administration.  Lee never made any big thing about it, but his partner would come around and people knew that he was Lee’s partner.  It never caused any problems.

An interesting note also is that Ed Clifton was a candidate for UU ministry.  He went to Starr King.  Clifton was orphaned and grew up in Nebraska.  He went into the Navy at the time of the Korean War, late 40s thereabouts, and after that went to Starr King.  I know that he never had a church and was not ordained.  I don’t know whether he applied for fellowship and was turned down or what, but I have the impression that he may have had a ministerial internship somewhere in California.  When I was on the Starr King Board I never went back to check, but my impression was that he left before graduation, which would have been in the late 1940s.

You might also like to know that I met my partner, not at the church, but through a wonderful couple at the church, the Eves.  Grace was a member of the church, a born Universalist from upstate New York.  Grace was an R.N.  when she married Sam; they did not have any children.  Samuel Russell Eves was a Quaker, musician and composer, and spoke three or four languages and did volunteer work at the Friends International Center in New York.  Several times a year they would invite a group of foreign students plus a couple of other people from the church to dinner.  I was a new member of the church back then, in 1956, and Grace invited me to their house for the first time.  That’s where I met my partner, who was a student from Thailand.  Grace and Sam became essentially “second parents” to us.

Q:  One name you brought up in your e-mail was Barbara Gittings, who I’ve read about as one of the founders of the New York chapter of the (lesbian organization) Daughters of Bilitis.  Was she associated with Fourth Universalist in some way?

A:  Yes, she was an active member of the church and very visible.  Everybody knew about her sexuality, but she was well liked and respected, although she never had any leadership role in the church.  I think she may have been even on the national board or a national officer of Daughters of Bilitis.  She’s a very articulate person.  I don’t know if she joined the church, but she came during Richard Kellaway’s time.

See the companion piece to this interview, an interview with Richard Kellaway, also apparently conducted by Lee Paczulla.

How We Love: On Growing a Soul

A Sermon Offered by Stephen C.  Kraynak

Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, AZ
November 18, 2012

“The hand you take across the aisle may not be one you know; but listen to its story before you let it go.”  These words by Georgeann Weaver, which the Desert Chorale and the Family Singers so beautifully sang for today’s introit, are a segue to my sermon.

This morning I will share some of the story of my journey to Unitarian Universalism.  My hand may not be one that you know.  But to all of you I extend my hand across the aisle, and before you let it go, I ask that you listen to my story.

Catholicism is the ancestral religion of my family.  My great-grandparents and grandparents brought their Catholic faith with them when they emigrated in the late 1890s and early 1900s from Slovakia.  They crossed the Atlantic Ocean with hope of finding better lives for themselves and their descendants.  Their greatest possession was their Catholic faith.

All of my relatives were Catholic.  We celebrated family life events — births, first communions, confirmations, weddings and funerals — with Catholic rituals.  Everyone attended Sunday Mass.  This was part of our family culture.  When I visited Slovakia, I learned that my maternal grandmother’s small parish church in the village of Trebisov had celebrated its eight hundredth anniversary in the 1980s.  Catholicism is a long and enduring family tradition.

As an infant I was baptized a Catholic, and I attended Catholic elementary and high schools in Cleveland.  When I pursued an undergraduate degree in education at the Ohio State University in Columbus, I began attending St. Thomas More Newman Center, the Catholic parish for the university community.  There, I remained an active member after I began my teaching career in the Columbus city schools.

I was a dedicated teacher and loved my work.  I had long suspected that I was gay, but found that investing my time and energy into work was a way to avoid dealing with this difficult personal issue.  Work itself, and the positive reinforcement I received for being a good teacher, became an addiction.  But there was an emptiness and loneliness in my life that work did not and could not fill.

At the Newman Center I made friends.  I was among liberal Catholics who welcomed pushing the boundaries of standard Catholic worship and community outreach.  The Paulist Fathers who staffed the Newman Center led this effort.  They preached about the boundless love of God for all of his children, without exception.  Yet, the possibility of being both Catholic and gay was not addressed from the pulpit.

In 1983 the Newman Center staff organized a Gay Men’s Support Group, called Dignity.  It was advertised in the church bulletin as welcoming to all.  I decided to go to a meeting.  I was surprised to find some of my Newman friends there.  They greeted me with open arms.  I found coming out to be awkward, a difficult change of life, and a different life orientation.  But the men were supportive and encouraging.  At times it felt like there was a group of us coming out together.

Often twenty to thirty men gathered for a Dignity meeting.  It was a group where we spoke freely, told our individual stories, and learned our common history.  We opened our homes for social and holiday gatherings and potluck dinners.  We went dancing together in the downtown bars.  We planned annual retreats for ourselves.  I felt welcomed and accepted in this group.  Being both gay and Catholic was possible.

On October 1, 1986, that changed.  The Vatican Office of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith issued a “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”

[From the Dignity website] “This (letter) instructed the Bishops to withdraw all support, or even the semblance of support, from any group vague on the immorality of homogenital acts… The Vatican had Dignity in mind.  And many found the letter harsh and uninformed.  Following (this), (Catholic) Bishops (around the country) began evicting local (Dignity) chapters for rejecting Church teaching and, most importantly, for opposing ecclesiastical authority.”

The Catholic Bishop of Columbus sent a letter to the Newman Center director, instructing him to evict us — all the members of Dignity, who had become such an affirming part of my life.  The Bishop owned the Newman Center building and its land, and he alone decided who was welcome there.

After a family history of more than eight hundred years in the Catholic Church, the Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus, at the direction of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, under the auspices of Pope John Paul II, evicted me from Catholic Church property.

The letters from both the Vatican and the Columbus Bishop were clear.  The authority of the teaching hierarchy of the Catholic Church must be upheld.  Dissenting voices were not allowed and not welcome.  In simple terms the message was:  be silent or get out.  I had a choice.  Either I had to assent to ecclesiastical authority and accept church teaching, thus denying who I was as a person, denying my own truth and my own conscience; or I had to turn my back on my Catholic upbringing and leave the church.

Dignity moved downtown to the basement of the United Church of Christ.  I attended Mass at the Newman Center less frequently.  When I was there, I felt resentful.  I did not feel welcome.  I wondered how all of these liberal Catholics could simply accept unloving directives from their hierarchy without a word, without questions, and without any protest.  They allowed their Bishop to evict and silence some of their own members.

Eventually I went to Mass at the Newman Center only on special days, such as Christmas and Easter.  For several years I was un-churched, but I continued to meet monthly with my Dignity brothers.

Out of curiosity, I began attending occasional Sunday worship at the nearby First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus.  I had heard that they were a very “unusual” church.  I had been told they did not believe in God, and that they had no dogmas or doctrines.  But I found them to be friendly and welcoming.  Although their worship services felt strange to me — lacking the ritual of the Catholic Church — I sat in the back and kept watching and marveling at how those Unitarians did things.

At a Dignity meeting in October, 1992, we learned that the Office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had sent another letter to all US Bishops.  “(This) document urged Bishops to oppose gay/lesbian civil rights laws in certain instances, such as placement of children for adoption or foster care, (the) employment of teachers or athletic coaches, or military recruitment.”  [from the Dignity website]

Although this Vatican letter had no direct effect on my teaching in the Columbus city schools, it was blatant and purposeful discrimination.  There had been a prior, failed attempt to ban all gay and lesbian teachers from the California public schools.  The Catholic Church now supported other such initiatives, everywhere.

In their obsession with whom I love, the Catholic hierarchy failed to see that how I love is most important.  I did not feel beloved in this Catholic Church, the church in which I was baptized, educated and confirmed.  The teachings of the hierarchy were not life-affirming for me.  I was not acceptable just the way I was.  And I was told to live a lie.

These are the words of song number 1053 in our hymnal:  “How could anyone ever tell you, you were anything less than beautiful?  How could anyone ever tell you, you were less than whole?  How could anyone fail to notice that your loving is a miracle?  How deeply you’re connected to my soul.”

Yet, this is exactly what the Catholic Church hierarchy told me:  that I was less than beautiful.  I was less than whole.  My loving was not a miracle.  And my soul, which they had taught me was immortal, was not connected to theirs.

I made a choice.  I rejected this Catholic Church teaching and stood in opposition to ecclesiastical authority.  I refused to hide my own truth and would not be silenced.  After sustaining the faith of my ancestors for centuries, the Catholic Church had evicted me and was now actively urging my oppression.  I felt rejected.  I felt betrayed.  I felt that my cultural heritage was taken from me.  I left the Catholic Church with much anger, resentment and hurt.

I began to attend the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus on a regular basis.  The members welcomed me with great kindness and hospitality.  I must be very clear about this.  I was not interested in returning there because of the Sunday worship.  Rather, it was the vibrant, happy human energy I felt when I walked through their front doors.  The church was alive.  Above all, it was the outgoing, sincere kindness of the church members, and how they warmly welcomed me, a newcomer, among them.  I will never forget their kindness.

Those Unitarians loved their congregation and their church.  They built it.  They grew it.  They were happy there and they genuinely enjoyed being together.  And they were thrilled to share it with all newcomers.

I joined Interweave, their support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  I participated in adult classes they offered, such as Building Your Own Theology and Owning Your Religious Past.  Both classes were intended to “…help Unitarian Universalists grow in their faith, moving from a space of discomfort and awkwardness to a space of affirmation and wholeness.”   [from the UUA website]

Being able to talk with other adults, some of them church members, and to listen to their personal stories, was most helpful.  They offered me different perspectives on my crisis of faith.  They supported me as I dealt with my painful loss.  They encouraged me to live my own truth and find meaning in my struggle.

Several people from the membership committee personally invited me to attend the Path to Membership class.  They assured me there would be no pressure to join the church.  But, they said, I would learn more about their church and their faith.

In the autumn of 1993, I participated in the Path to Membership class.  I learned some of the history of their church and about its structure, such as the Board of Trustees and a Church Council.  Of course, they eagerly informed me about… committees.  Some large standing committees had their own impressive tri-fold handouts which detailed their respective ministries.

I heard about time, talent and treasure — that members are expected to provide volunteer service to the church and make a meaningful financial contribution.  I learned about congregational polity — that this church governed itself and had a written constitution and standing rules.  It was a revelation to learn that the members called their ministers by a majority vote.  For me, this was an entirely new way of doing church.

Although membership was not expected or required, I understood that in order to be fully involved in the life of this church, membership was a necessary commitment.  So I made another choice.  For the first time in my life, I freely and intentionally chose a faith tradition.  I signed the membership book of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus on the 18th day of November, 1993, nineteen years ago today.  Today is the anniversary of my liberation from an authoritarian, coercive, and punitive church hierarchy.  On that day, my story became part of the living tradition of Unitarian Universalism.  Nineteen years ago today, I began to grow my soul.

In the years that followed, I became more committed to the life of that congregation, and got involved in its ministry through volunteer committee work and, of course… meetings.

I will always remember my first annual membership meeting.  I was a novice in congregational polity.  Other than in communal prayer, I was not accustomed to speaking in a sanctuary.  Or to doing church business through discussion, and making decisions by majority vote, conducted according to Robert’s Rules of Order.

I have forgotten the issue that compelled me to take the floor at that annual meeting.  But as I stood and began to speak, a member from the back of the sanctuary yelled out:  “Tell us your name!” I apologized, and began again with my name.  As I continued, another member yelled out: “Use the microphone!”

I have told this story many times to other newcomers considering our faith.  The church of my ancestors told me that my voice was not welcome.  It told me to be silent, or get out.  Unitarian Universalism raised its welcoming voice to me and said:  Tell us your name, and use the microphone!  I learned that in this faith I am a welcome and valued member of my congregation — just as I am.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, and this faith tradition, have no Bishop who owns this property and can tell me I am not welcome here.  This church has no hierarchy which can silence me.  The final authority in this congregation, in matters of finances, policy and procedure, resides with us, the members.

Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal religion, and has no dogmas or doctrines.  Rather, it is a covenantal religion which asks me to promise to live my life faithful to myself, to my congregation and to the world.  Instead of waiting for a future heaven, it encourages me to work toward heaven on earth, here and now, in Beloved Community.  This is what I find to be most welcoming — and most challenging — about my faith.

As I live this faith, I spend no time or energy in the pursuit of personal salvation in another life.  I neither seek heaven nor fear hell.  What matters is what I do with my life and how I do it, in community with others.  What matters is how I love.

I will never, ever, ever forget how I felt when my ancestral church evicted me because of who I was.  And I will always remember how I felt when Unitarian Universalism welcomed me, just as I was, and encouraged me on my journey toward wholeness.

In today’s story for all ages, We Are A Rainbow, the author, Nancy Tabor, describes my experience with the Catholic Church hierarchy with these words:  “When we do not understand each other, we feel bad… We hurt.  We cry.  We separate.  We stop trying to find a way to be together.”   She concludes her story with words that depict Unitarian Universalism: “…Rainbows… they shine for everyone!” Unitarian Universalism is a faith which celebrates all the colors of the rainbow.  De Colores.  It welcomes all people of good will.  And together, we stand on the side of love.

When I chose this faith, the greatest doubt I had was this:  Is Unitarian Universalism enough?  Is this faith enough to support me through difficult, life-changing events, and at the end of life itself?  For what is the logic of being part of a faith community which professes no doctrine or dogma, promises no salvation or eternal life, but still asks for personal commitment?

The Unitarian Universalist Association Commission on Appraisal best states why I have come to profess that being a part of this religious movement is life-giving, and why I believe this faith is enough for me.  In their document Belonging, The Meaning of Membership, the Commission on Appraisal writes the following:

“The possibility of growth and change, of transformation, is the real basis for participation in a religious community.  We have all experienced losses and disappointments, pain and grief.  We have been broken by life and need healing.

The closest that contemporary Unitarian Universalists may come to a concept of salvation is to offer opportunities for growth and transformation, for becoming more whole.  As one of the great ministers of the past century, Rev. A. Powell Davies, memorably put it, ‘Life is just a chance to grow a soul.’ “ [from Belonging: The Meaning of Membership, p.  3, report of the UUA’s Commission on Appraisal in 2001 – Chapter 1: The Process of Commitment]

In this, my chosen faith, I have been on a nineteen-year journey toward wholeness, and I have been free to live my own truth.  During this week of Thanksgiving, I affirm my gratitude for having found Unitarian Universalism, for it continues to offer me opportunities to grow my soul.

This morning I have extended my hand across the aisle to you and asked you to listen to my story.  Before you let go of my hand, and I of yours, I have some closing words taken from a song by Beth Nielsen Chapman, called How We Love:

Life has taught me this:
Everyday is new
And if anything is true
All that matters when we’re through
Is how we love.

Faced with what we lack
Some things fall apart.
From the ashes new dreams start
All that matters to the heart is how we love.

Sometimes we forget trying to be so strong
In this world of right and wrong
All that matters when we’re gone
All that mattered all along

All we have that carries on
Is how we love.

De Colores!  So be it.  Amen.

Josh Pawelek

Until All Are Equal: Refusing to Sign Marriage Licenses

A sermon delivered by Rev. Josh Pawelek

Unitarian Universalist Society, East Manchester, CT
November 2, 2003

When I initially planned to preach on my decision to stop signing marriage licenses, I certainly didn’t imagine this would be the week the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court would hand down its decision in Goodridge vs.  Department of Public Health on whether or not the state’s ban on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples is consistent with its constitution’s various commitments to equality.  So thanks a lot to the MA Supreme Judicial Court for stealing my thunder.  It almost feels inconsequential to speak about not signing marriage licenses here when such a momentous event has taken place up north.

It was momentous.  Tuesday morning at 10:00 I was walking past a TV monitor at a bank branch in our local grocery store, and there it was on CNN: “Massachusetts High Court Overturns Ban on Gay Marriage.”  Wait, what?  I had to read it twice to make sure I was reading correctly.  You don’t often see those words in that order.  In fact, no one has ever seen those exact words in that exact order.  As Chief Justice Marshall put it, “we are mindful that our decision marks a change in the history of our marriage law.”  This, for me, and for so many others who’ve worked tirelessly — and who will continue to work tirelessly — for full civil rights for gays and lesbians, was a sweet and precious moment in history, a moment of justice.  “Yes!” I said out loud.  Make no mistake:  I have a very distinct bias and much emotional investment when it comes to gay and lesbian civil rights.  The tellers and their customers all turned to look at me.  Some of them turned to look at the monitor.  None of them joined in my excitement.  Longing for someone to share this moment with, I looked at my baby boy in the shopping cart, put my arms in the air, and said “Yaaaaayyyy!” Poor kid.  Oblivious to everything except my excitement, he put his arms in the air and screamed “Yaayyyyy!”

What a relief this must be for the plaintiffs.  They’ve been wrapped up in this for a few years now.  They experienced the agony of losing the case in the first round, but were able to appeal to the Supreme Court.  They were first told that the decision would be handed down in early July.  They’ve been waiting, on pins and needles I’m sure, for the last five months, their lives on hold, with no idea how the decision would go.  I had the great honor of sitting on a panel at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly this past June with the lead plaintiff, Hillary Goodridge.  We were each speaking about the status of the gay marriage movement in our various states.  I remember that she had to leave the panel early because she was having her picture taken for Newsweek.  She is funny and warm and humble, and not the person whose name and life you’d expect to find at the center of a national legal and cultural struggle.  But there she is.  “Yaaaaayyyy!”

I want to emphasize that the high court’s decision does not mean that gay marriages can begin taking place in Massachusetts.  The court could’ve gone that far, but it didn’t.  Similar to Vermont, the court told the legislature to take care of it, and gave them 180 days in which to do so.  This decision is more radical than the Vermont court’s decision because the Massachusetts court did not give the legislature the option to create a civil union law.  This MA legislature must amend the marriage laws.  This will be full gay marriage, no second class citizenship.  It is possible that a constitutional amendment will be put forth in Massachusetts to declare that marriage is only between a man and a woman, but this would take a couple of years, and I believe it will be much harder to take equality away once it has been established.  Needless to say, it will be very exciting to witness as events unfold.

We don’t have anything like this in our state — at least not yet.  So I want to tell you about my decision to stop signing marriage licenses, especially because it impacts this congregation.

About a year ago I heard the Rev.  Fred Small — a well-known folk-singer and now UU minister in Littleton, MA — talk about his decision to stop signing marriage licenses.  I confess I was unimpressed.  I was even a bit arrogant about it.  “What good will that do?”  I asked.  It won’t influence a court.  It is unlikely to influence a legislator, unless they come to you to get married.  It will only hurt the people in your congregation who need you to marry them.  And let’s face it, it’s not like the anti-gay lobby and the anti-gay politicians will be quaking in their boots when they hear that a UU minister is refusing to sign marriage licenses!  You won’t hear any of them saying, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!”  It’s not an action that exerts a lot of political pressure.  Part of the reason I felt this way is because I had been involved in Love Makes a Family, a grassroots coalition working for  marriage equality in Connecticut.  I had been watching their leaders and their lobbyists make strategic decisions about how to exert political pressure.  I had been learning quite a bit from them about how to build an effective movement, about how to win.  They won domestic partnership benefits for state employees.  They won co-parent adoption.  I was very impressed.  They hadn’t identified the refusal to sign marriage licenses as an effective strategy to advance the legislative battle in our state.  In fact, they said, it might even turn off some of the clergy from more conservative denominations who had agreed to support us at great risk to their careers.

Through the course of the year, my thinking began to change.  First, I became aware of gay and lesbian colleagues who were refusing to sign licenses, not because they were trying to make a statement about justice.  Rather, they were refusing to sign because it was too painful and insulting to perform weddings for heterosexual couples and sign the licenses when they themselves couldn’t legally be married.  Pain and insult experienced by colleagues and friends — I was hearing something I suppose I knew was there all along, but I hadn’t listened deeply until this moment.

My position began to change even more when I began reflecting on this strange United States custom by which states authorize clergy to sign marriage licenses, and in a quite blatant way, blur the lines between church and state.  This is very important:  there are two kinds of marriage, legal and religious.  Legal marriage is what enables a couple to obtain what I call the civil rights of marriage.  There are 588 rights afforded by our state to married heterosexual couples.  Only five of the state rights are offered to same-sex couples if they fill out special paperwork.  That, too, was a battle that Love Makes a Family won during the spring 2002 legislative session.  There are over 1,100 rights afforded by the federal government to married heterosexual couples.  Very few of these rights can be obtained easily and without great legal expense by same-sex couples, yet their needs in terms of inheritance, raising children, sharing property, hospital visits, end of life issues, health benefits, family discounts, family tax credits, and on and on and on, are exactly the same.  Long-term committed partners of gays and lesbians who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks have not been allowed to claim any money from the vast collections that were taken up in the wake of the tragedy and are now managed through the federal government.  Yet, heterosexual partners of 9/11 victims who were married just days before the attacks have been able to receive money.

Why clergy are allowed to sign marriage licenses on behalf of the state I have no idea.  It may have just been a matter of convenience, or a hold-over from the days of Puritan theocracy in old New England.  It doesn’t tend to work that way in most European countries where, when a couple wants to get married legally, they go to the appropriate governmental office and obtain a marriage license.  Then, if they want the second kind of marriage, a religious marriage, they go to the church or the synagogue, or the mosque, and the marriage rite (R-I-T-E) takes place.  Religious marriage seals the union in the eyes of God or Yahweh or Allah or the Sacred or the Most Holy or the Spirit of the Life.  It has nothing to do with the state.  It has nothing to do with the civil rights (R-I-G-H-T) of marriage.

Because religious and legal marriage are combined in the US, many people have difficulty understanding that the same-sex marriage movement is only about legal marriage.  It has no interest in asking any religious body to change its practices when it comes to religious marriage.  And yet, so many of the arguments against gay marriage that you hear at the legislature or in testimonies in the courts are religious in nature.  “Because the Bible says so! Because it’s an abomination, see Leviticus, see Paul.”  When you take the religious argument away, there really is no argument against gay marriage.  If you read the dissenting opinions of the Massachusetts judges, you see them really struggling to say why gay marriage is wrong, but they know they can’t base it on religious grounds, so they make vague statements about not having enough data, about letting the people decide, about the extent of the court’s authority, about historical norms.

These reflections helped me to see even further that it makes sense to refuse to sign marriage licenses.  Take the clergy out of legal marriage and let us just focus on religious marriage.  I think this would really help opponents of gay marriage to understand that this is about equality and civil rights; it is not an attack on religion.  I will certainly continue to perform wedding ceremonies for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.  And I will sign the religious certificate of marriage.  But until we have marriage equality in Connecticut, I will not sign the legal certificate.   I will not participate in a form of state-sanctioned discrimination.

The final event that changed my mind about this issue happened over the summer, when Pat Anderson and Deb Walker came to me and asked me to perform their wedding, which will take place here on December 17th (see the November newsletter for details).  Deb and Pat will be my first wedding as your parish minister.  I was honored.  And it dawned on me:  If I sign marriage licenses for straight couples, but not for gay and lesbian couples, then I really am allowing our congregation to perpetuate second class membership for gays and lesbians.  That is, the minister provides one package of services for one group, and another package of services for another group.  My conscience can no longer sanction this.  The pain and insult have lodged too deeply in my heart.

It’s not that I don’t want heterosexual couples to receive the benefits provided by legal marriage.  I do.  By all means, go to a justice of the peace and get your license signed.  But also recognize the immense privilege that you receive as a married heterosexual person — or even as a divorced heterosexual person, since some of those civil rights of marriage enable a clear and unambiguous legal termination of a relationship.  Recognize the discrimination.  Recognize the mis-use and abuse of power.  Recognize the vast denial of civil rights to one segment of the population.  Remember that marriage laws used to turn women into property, and they were changed by people who cared about justice.  Remember that marriage laws used to prevent interracial marriage, and they were changed by people who cared about justice.  So much for historical norms!  Recognize, remember, and then join in the struggle in whatever way possible to make sure that all citizens of every state receive equal treatment under the law.

I told our Policy Board in September that I had decided to no longer sign marriage licenses.  They supported me, but also asked that I not make this statement in public until I had had an opportunity to preach about it to you first.  This I could do.  This felt very much like shared ministry.  From this day forward, I will say to any couple who asks me to perform their wedding, “Yes, however I will not sign the license issued by the state.”

One of the assumptions Unitarian Universalists embrace is the notion that revelation is not sealed, but open and continuous.  Truth is not sealed, but open and continuous.  We UUs tend to understand from a spiritual perspective the way in which values like freedom and equality are applied historically in limited ways, and we tend to notice, from a spiritual perspective, that this limited application breeds injustices, that there is always room to expand the application, always room to let more people in, always room to tweak and improve on democracy, civil rights, civil liberties.  In religious traditions where revelation is sealed — delivered once to a great teacher or prophet — and written down in unchanging, unerring language, it is difficult to embrace an expansion of the human family; it is difficult to imagine a wider application of values such as freedom and equality.  Such traditions always try to fit the world into a box.  Anything or anyone who doesn’t fit is deemed other, depraved, flawed, evil, damned.

Unitarian Universalists approach things differently.  We have a box, to be sure, but we are much more willing to fit our box to the world.  It was as late as the 1980s that Unitarian Universalist congregations were still struggling with how to welcome, embrace, and empower gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, let alone work for their civil rights.  But the genius of a liberal faith is that it stays open to new possibilities.  It is in a position to hear the moanings, the rumblings, and the protests of those who find themselves outside the box, outside equality, outside democracy.  We can hear because we believe that revelation and truth are not sealed.

Although this decision to refuse to sign marriage licenses has been my decision to make as an ordained minister, it is my fondest hope that we understand it as our collective protest of injustice; as our collective statement, along with other Unitarian Universalists and other liberal religious and non-religious people in Connecticut, that gays and lesbians are full members of the human family, that they deserve the same rights and benefits afforded to heterosexual people, and that this struggle, like all justice struggles, will be won by those who know that new truths emerge, new possibilities arise, new messages are available, revelation and truth are not sealed.

Amen.  Blessed Be.

Tying a Ribbon Around the Church

It was the Fall of 1992, and I had just arrived in Portland, Oregon, to take my position as the new Senior Minister of First Unitarian Church.  At the time, Ballot Measure 9 was raging in the state — it would have denied civil rights to gays and lesbians.

Measure 9 would have added the following text to the Oregon Constitution:

All governments in Oregon may not use their monies or properties to promote, encourage or facilitate homosexualitypedophiliasadism or masochism.  All levels of government, including public education systems, must assist in setting a standard for Oregon’s youth which recognizes that these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided.

Kathy Oliver, the Executive Director of Outside In, an agency for runaway teens on the block of property owned by the church, came to me with a bold suggestion:  let’s wrap the entire church block with a red ribbon and declare the area a “hate free zone.”  I immediately knew that this was a genius of an idea, and said yes.

As I remember, I informed the Board but did not ask permission, nor did I engage the congregation in conversation about whether or not to take this action.  Other Unitarian Universalist churches in the area had been active in the “No on 9” campaign, and I knew many in our church were of that mind as well — but the main reason I acted on my own accord is that of course it was the right thing to do, and the vote was coming up on November 4, so time was short.  Gays and lesbians were suffering not only emotionally, but some had been the victims of physical violence, and so they were fearful of being attacked.  I remember standing in the receiving line after a church service and holding in my arms a gay man who was weeping, grateful that the church had made a safe place for him.

Kathy and Outside In volunteers strung a red ribbon around the entire block, and Kathy called a press conference.  All manner of media showed up:  newspapers, TV, radio.  I gave an interview, as did Kathy and a few congregants.  Our Women’s Alliance, composed of older women, happened to be having their monthly meeting at the time, so they cancelled their program and showed up on the sidewalk behind the church to give their testimony to the press — lots of white-haired and highly respectable ladies stepped up and spoke to various members of the press.  It was a great day.  The ballot measure went down in defeat, but it was closer than it ever should have been:  43.5 for, 56.5 against.

Of course similar public conversations about homosexuality were taking place in other areas all over the country, and the church received many requests, asking how our event had been imagined and created — such questions as, “How do you wrap a block? What about the doors?” (Answer:  the ribbon goes above the doors.)  Our action (without social media, of course) went all over the nation and other churches copied what we had done.  It has become an iconic act.

Another consequence of our action was unexpected:  the church grew 40 percent that first year of my ministry, as gays and lesbians throughout the city flocked to us for spiritual sustenance.  They were joined by progressive-minded individuals who couldn’t have imagined a church that would take such a stand.

We tried to be welcoming to all who walked through our doors that year, but we didn’t have the infrastructure to assimilate the standing-room-only crowds that showed up.  So we struggled, with most congregants being glad of the growth, but some others resenting the changes that came so quickly.  We needed to raise more money, and we did.  We added another service, and then eventually still another, so for 5 years we held three full services each Sunday, until we renovated a building on our block to handle the new members and visitors.

Consider the times:

  • In 1992, no one was using the acronym LGBTQ+ — LBG was beginning to be used to replace the term “gay.”
  • In 1993, President Clinton signed a military policy directive prohibiting openly gay and lesbian individuals from serving in the military.
  • In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
  • In 1998, Matthew Shepard was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die.

Conducting Services of Union

Prior to the legalization of marriage

During the 1990s while I served May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society in Syracuse, I did many services of Holy Union for gay and lesbian couples.

Most of the lesbian services were small, often the couple and two friends, and had deeply painful histories that brought them to me for their wedding. There were far too many women who said their families had disowned them, or that a father would kill her if he knew she was lesbian.  I knew this was not just a figurative threat by her father, and neither did she.  I did way more preparation of the room where the ceremony was to take place to make sure their wedding was beautiful, meaningful and affirming.  I cried a lot before and after so many of those Holy Union Services.

One wedding, this one a large one with a lot of friends and family in attendance and held in the sanctuary at May Memorial.  A soloist sang, “Somewhere” during the service and I honestly do not know how I managed to finish the service.  It will remain the most powerful and impactful moment in a wedding that I ever did.

One lesbian service of Holy Union was between two teachers and held in a public venue with two men as their attendants.  If anyone peeked in, they would have thought it was a double heterosexual wedding.  At one point a balloon burst and everyone ducked and felt the terror of someone shooting at us.  Once we realized it was just a balloon, we all breathed a sigh of relief.  But the realization of what we felt and feared hit us hard.

Two of the gay weddings I did were with one of the men living with AIDS. Within six months I was doing their Memorial Services.  Those were so hard to do because I knew what was ahead, and yet they were determined to celebrate their love with beautiful wedding ceremonies.

Gay and Lesbian Divorce Form

Be it known that on October 28, 2000 Rose ________ and Harriet ________ were joined in Holy Union by the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth M. Strong at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society in Syracuse, New York.

Let it be known that on this day ________________ in the year _____________________

Rose ________ and Harriet ________ dissolved their Holy Union by divorce.

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth M. Strong
51 Roslin Street, Dorchester, MA 02124

Gay/Lesbian Wedding Ceremonies

Assembled by Elizabeth Strong in the 1990s

OPENING WORDS

1)     Friends, we are gathered here at this hour to witness and to celebrate the coming together of two separate lives.  We have come to join these two, to be with them and rejoice with them in the making of this important commitment.  The essence of this commitment is the taking of another person in (his)(her) entirety as lover, companion, friend.  It is, therefore, a decision which is not to be entered into lightly but rather undertaken with great consideration and respect for both the other person and one’s self.

2)     Love is one of the highest experiences that we human beings can have, and it can add depth of meaning to  our lives.  The sensual part of love is one of life’s greatest joys, and when this is combined with real friendship, both are infinitely enhanced.  The day-to-day companionship–the pleasure in doing things together, or in doing separate things but delighting in exchanging experiences — is a continuous and central part of what people who love each other can share.

3)     This is a time set apart
apart from the ordinary and the routine
apart from the ongoing rush of life;

This is a time set apart in the lives of these two people —
a time for reflection and commitment
a time for beginnings and promises
a time of celebration —
a time which they have invited us to share.

This is a place set apart —
apart from the familiar and the commonplace
apart from the swirling currents of humanity.

This is a place set apart for the gathering
of this unique community of persons —
a place for welcomes and remembrances
a place for witnessing and sharing
a place of celebration —
a place which we, together but once,
can call our own for these few moments.

Welcome to this sacred space and to this special time in the lives of ________________________and ______________________.  We have come together to witness their marriage, and to acknowledge the commitment they have made to one another and to celebrate the joy of this occasion with them.

4)     We are here to take part in an event which is at once, one of the most public and one of the most private in all of human experience.

A wedding, as a private moment, requires the intimate commitment of two persons to one another, — it is an act of communion between their spirits that no one else is privileged to share.  A wedding, as a public event, is a declaration made to all those who gather to witness it — a celebration in which family, friends and community all participate.

5)     We gather to acknowledge and celebrate a new life – the life ______________and _____________ have created from the joining of their own individual lives.  This joining has already taken place.  Now, as their love and commitment has deepened there is born a desire for a ceremonial acknowledgement and blessing of this love.  ____________and _____________, we are delighted to be a part of this ceremony.  This company of family and friends has already shared much with you; they know you well;  they love you and wish you every happiness.

6)     We have come to this place to unite __________________and ____________.  Marriage is an institution which can only become real in the lives of two people.  This celebration is but the outward sign of such an inward union of hearts.

_____________and ______________, in presenting yourselves here today, you are performing an act of faith in each other–a faith which will grow and mature and endure.  If you would have your love set on such faith, not just at this moment, but in all the days ahead, then ever cherish the hopes and dreams you now hold.  Resolve that love not be dulled by the commonplace nor blurred by the mundane in life.  Faults will appear where now there is satisfaction; talents will fade in bleaching experience; wonder will flatten in the rituals of daily living — but devotion, joy and love can remain, as you build them together.  Stand fast in hope and confidence, believing in yourselves and believing in each other.  In this spirit you can create a union which will radiate to one another and give new hope and strength to all who watch your quest with joy and love.

HOMILIES

1)         ________________________and _____________________bring two unique personalities and spirits to this relationship.  It is the strengths of these individual personalities and spirits that has given their relationship a strong foundation.  On that they have built a trust and respect of one another.  They bring dreams which inspire them.  They challenge one another on a daily basis to strive to be the best they can be, both as individuals and as partners.

Strong as they may be, there are always outside forces that try to diminish the importance of their life together.  We are here today to share their joy and to pledge our support of them, not only as individuals but as a couple.  We rejoice with them as an outward symbol of the union of their hearts — a union created by friendship, respect, and love.

2)      This ceremony symbolizes the intimate sharing of two lives, yet this sharing must not diminish but enhance the individuality of each partner.  A union that lasts is one which is continually developing and one in which each person is individually developing, while growing in understanding of the other.  Deep knowledge of another is not something that can be achieved in a short time, and real understanding of the other’s feelings can develop fully only with years of intimacy.  This wonderful knowledge of another person grows out of really caring for that person so much that one wants to understand as completely as possible what the other is feeling.  Thus, it is possible to share not only joys and successes but also the burden of sorrows and failures.  To be known in this way is a priceless thing because such understanding and acceptance make it easier to live with our problems and failings and worries.

3)     On this day of your union, you stand somewhat apart from all other human beings.  You stand within the charmed circle of your love, and this is as it should be.  But love is not meant to be the possession of two people alone.  Rather, it should serve as a source of common energy, as a form in which you find the strength to live your lives with courage.  From this day onward you must come closer together than ever before, you must love one another in all adversity. but at the same time your love should give you the strength to stand apart, to seek out your unique destinies, to make your special contribution to the world, which is always part of us and more than us.

4)     Ask most people why they marry the person they do, and they’ll tell you, “She’s/He’s the first one who called me on everything.”  all the things you tried to get away with in the past, all the games you designed and mastered for the express purpose of keeping people at arm’s length were, it turns out, all just a weeding-out process, a search for the one person who doesn’t fall for it – the one who can sidestep your tricks and see right through you.  And, ironically, you’re not upset.  In fact, you’re impressed.  You think, “Wow, good for you.”  And the message goes forth: “Okay, no more calls, we have winner.”

So, you learn to accept each other.  Your best behavior is now and forever reserved for outside the house and once you’re inside, you’re free to be the person you really are.  There’s a tacit understanding.  “I know all about you and you know all about me and it’ll be all our little secret.”

You become a little team.  And you look out for each other.  Now and forever, it’s the “two of you.”

from “Couplehood” by Paul Reiser

VOWS AND RING EXCHANGE I

__________________and ___________________, you have chosen one another as life partners.  Knowing what you know of each other, and trusting in what you do not yet know, are you now ready to be married?

WE ARE

They have spoken their wish.  Will you, their family and friends, honor and pledge them your love, support and acceptance?

WE WILL

I,________________take you,________________, to be my spouse,  the companion of my days.  I proclaim my love for you.  I proclaim my trust in you.  I am happy to be a part of you.  Remember, these words from my heart will always be true, now and forever. With all that I feel, here is my love for you. We shall keep together what trouble and sorrow our lives may lay upon us, and we shall share together our store of goodness and plenty and love.

I,________________take you, ________________, to be my spouse, the companion of my days. I proclaim my love for you.  I proclaim my trust in you.  I am happy to be a part of you.  Remember, these words from my heart will always be true, now and forever. With all that I feel, here is my love for you. We shall keep together what trouble and sorrow our lives may lay upon us, and we shall share together our store of goodness and plenty and love.

What pledges do you offer that you will fulfill these vows?

THESE RINGS.

The circle is the symbol of the sun and the earth and the universe.  It is the symbol of wholeness and of perfection and of peace.  The ring is a symbol of unity into which your two lives are now joined in an unbroken circle, in which, wherever you go, you will return unto one another.

I,_________________________, take you,_______________________, as my beloved, to protect, love, respect, and cherish for our lifetime together. 

I,_________________________, take you,______________________, as my beloved, to protect, love, respect, and cherish for our lifetime together.

Wear these rings as a symbol of your union and as a sign to all the world of your love for and devotion to one another. Each time you look at your rings, remember all that you have pledged to one another this day.

VOWS AND RING EXCHANGE II

Do you,_______________ take,______________, as your life partner, to share with (her)(him) all the wonders life has to offer, through the good times and the bad, through laughter and tears, as long as you both shall live?

I DO

Do you,________________  take,____________, as your life partner, to share with (her)(him) all the wonders life has to offer, through the good times and the bad, through laughter and tears, as long as you both shall live?

I DO

May these rings be forever the symbol of the unbroken circle of love.  Love freely given has no giver and no receiver — for each is the giver and each is the receiver.  May these rings remind you always of the vows you have taken here today.

As a sign and symbol of our union, I give you this ring to wear forever. (place ring on finger)

As a sign and symbol of our union, I give you this ring to wear forever. (place ring on finger)

VOWS AND RING EXCHANGE III

I,_____________  take you,_____________ as my spouse, to be no other than yourself.  Loving what I know of you, trusting what I do not yet know, I will respect your integrity and have faith in your abiding love for me, through all our years, and in all that life may bring us.

I,____________ take you,_____________ as my spouse, to be no other than yourself.  Loving what I know of you, trusting what I do not yet know, I will respect your integrity and have faith in your abiding love for me, through all our years, and in all that life may bring us.

The rings you are about to exchange are a symbol of everything your marriage is to mean to you:  the giving of each to the other, the value in which you hold each other.  They are an outward symbol of a promise, freely given, each to the other.

I give this ring as a symbol of my love for you.

I give this ring as a symbol of my love for you.

DECLARATION/PRONOUNCEMENTS

1)         Since, ______________________and _______________________have vowed to be loyal and loving toward each other, formalizing in our presence the existence of the bond between them, we bear witness to the ceremony they have performed — the ceremony that symbolizes their union, and recognize their marriage before the community.

2)         Now have you, _____________and you,____________, in the presence of these friends and loved ones, declared your confidence that upon the foundation of your love you can build a worthy home.  You have solemnly promised to live together in the sacred experience of marriage.  You have given and received rings and in so doing have declared your marriage to exist.  We, here gathered, bear witness to this declaration, and recognize you as married.

3)         And now that you have spoken the words and performed the rites that unite your lives, we do hereby in conformity with ancient custom declare your marriage to be valid and binding.

4)         In as much as these two persons have freely promised, in our presence, to live together in the relationship of marriage and thereto have engaged themselves in the giving and receiving of rings, I, therefore, ministering in the name of my free religious faith, affirm and celebrate their commitments and call them married.

CANDLE LIGHTING

(Couple step forward, take two burning candles, and use them to light the third, larger one.)

As these two flames merge to form a newer, stronger source of light, and yet continue to burn, each with their own special brilliance, so may it be with your lives.

WORDS FOR WEDDINGS WITH CHILDREN/h3>
_________________and _______________, your child(ren) is/are with you today.  They (He/She) represent(s) a major portion of each of your lives.  With your new status as a married couple, your child(ren) acquire new status.  This is not only a great joy, but also a great responsibility.  Thus, it seems good and right to have you make another promise today.

Will you both use your new relationship with each other to provide for this (these) child(ren), a home that is stable and secure, loving and supportive, which, as they mature, they will be able to grow in strength, self-respect and intelligence, and which they will remember with warmth and affection?

WE WILL

PRAYER AND MEDITATIONS

1)         We are thankful for the sacred and tender ties which ________ and __________have now taken upon themselves.  May all their loved ones, here assembled or in absence remembering them, ever continue to rejoice in the bonds which have united them.  May the inspiration of this ceremony abide throughout their lives.  May they hold firm those things to which they have pledged themselves.  May they be comfort and joy, counsel and strength to each other through all the changes and chances of the world.  Hand in hand, heart with heart, and united by one soul, may they walk together along the pathway of life in faith, hope and love.

2)         Let us unite in prayer.  God, giver of life and love we give thanks for the celebration of marriage that we have gathered to consecrate this day.  We each bring to this sanctuary; to this ancient and holy ceremony, the hopes and dreams we hold for all who love.  May this union between _______and _______be blessed by God with love, honesty, reason and passion.  May the days of this marriage increase constantly in joy and fulfillment.  For together, here in the presence of love and of those who love, we honor the consecration of two lives, once apart, to a greater vision of their lives together.  May God bless you and keep you.  May you walk always in the paths of love.

LOSING WORDS/h3>
1)         May the blessing that rests upon all who love, rest also upon you and fill you with all spiritual grace.  May the bond that unites you ever be strengthened.  May you so love and work together in the days that are to come that your lives shall be enriched and ennobled by a true and deepening companionship of mind and heart.

2)         With a perfect and abiding confidence, with a trust and affection which knows no limitation — I send you forth upon your journey of life — to laugh for joy, to suffer pain; to seek, to serve, to find.

3)         Now and forever may both of you be united in love and harmony;
Now and forever may both of you share your moods and dreams with loving care.
Now and forever may both of you keep trust in each other, constant and deep.
Now and forever may you find joy in life and warm contentment as life partners with one another.

4)         Look to this day,
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth;
The glory of action;
The splendor of beauty;
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.

— Sanskrit

The First Out Lesbian and Gay Unitarian Universalist Ministers

Singing for Our Lives

The First Out Lesbian and Gay Unitarian Universalist Ministers[1]

Celeste DeRoche

ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS

I set out to interview the first LGBT[2] Unitarian Universalist ministers and the non-LGBT people who helped them achieve these settlements.  The first filter I used was to search for those clergy who were out through their first search and settlement.

I interviewed lesbian and gay ministers who were ordained much later, chronologically, but had important information to contribute to this story.  And I interviewed gay people who were not able to be out at the start of their careers and were willing to talk about what that experience was like.

Clearly there are many strands to this history.  When I started this project I thought it could include the first bisexual and transgendered UU ministers.  By my second interview (hat tip to Mr. Barb Greve) the magnitude of my original focus became clear. It was time to add a second filter to the research.  While I would gladly collect what information I could, I had to limit my research to lesbian and gay clergy. The stories of bisexual and transgendered ministers would have to wait to be collected. This was, in part, because so many of their stories were too raw, too current, and still too fluid. (One bisexual minister gently declined to be interviewed saying it was still “too dangerous” to speak openly.)

In addition to telling their own story of their particular path to ordained ministry, the themes and issues each interviewee related were varied and wide ranging with of course interesting overlaps and intersections within both Unitarian Universalism and the wider culture.  The following is not meant to be an exhaustive description of the content of the interviews but here is an overview of some of the issues addressed.

Several of the interviewees were students at Starr King, located in the Bay Area of California, when Harvey Milk and George Moscone were killed by Dan White.  They attended the large memorial march and vigil held in front of City Hall in San Francisco and had clear memories and stories to relate of that event.

Charlie Kast had a unique perspective and experience.  Before leaving Kalamazoo, MI to attend Starr King seminary he had been a regular contributor to Gays Week, a weekly newspaper for the gay community in that midwestern city.  When the deaths occurred in San Francisco, the editor “…called me and said, “Would you go into San Francisco and interview people at City Hall.”  And I got to sit in Milk’s office.  Oh, man…  I sat in the office, no bigger than this {gestures to his living room} but what sank into me was when Dan White came into kill him {Harvey Milk} there was not an exit.”[3]

These out UU ministers were coming into ministry in the earliest years of the AIDS epidemic (1984/1985).  Kim Crawford Harvie’s interview is especially searing in its description of what these years were like in Provincetown and the crucial role the UU church played in the lives of gay men.  At many points the only two people the gay community could turn to were Kim and one funeral director who was willing to accept the bodies of men who had died from AIDS.  When Charlie Kast left the UU Church of Lexington and went to the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago, IL, ministry to people with AIDS was a large part of the work he did with that congregation.

At the same time the Office of Gay Affairs (fortunately soon changed to the Office of Gay and Lesbian Concerns) was beginning. The Welcoming Congregation was developing.  This first group of ministers was critical to these developments.  They were also active with the MFC.  Many of the interviews speak to the active denominational activities each of these ministers sustained.

Interviews with UUA past presidents and administrative staff give detailed accounts of the pivotal role the Department of Ministry and the then Extension Department played in pushing congregations to grow and recognize the talents and skills of lesbian and gay ministers. Interviews with David Pohl and Chuck Gaines illuminate the same time period of the first group of out ministers.  Then David Pettee’s interview provides a compelling overview of the change over time for lesbian and gay ministers and especially for congregations.

The importance of Beyond Categorical Thinking is discussed extensively in the interview with Jacqui James.  Just about all of the ministers interviewed mentioned the importance of this program and strongly urged me to interview Jacqui so I was relieved and delighted that I was able to reach her.  Her interview is key context for this history.

And just as key, I think, is much of the timeline material Keith Kron was able to provide for both the evolution of the Welcoming Congregation curriculum and also the Office of
Gay and Lesbian Concerns.

It is important to note the difficulties that these earliest ministers encountered.  Barbara Pescan and Ann Tyndall had a particularly difficult experience with Community Church in New York City, which all these years later can continue to teach us.  Likewise, Gene Navias’s interview and the 50-year Reflections he offered on his years of ministry also offer much insight into realties we like to think are behind us.

My original plan had been to collect and transcribe interviews and archival research, work them into a manuscript, and then deposit the research with the Unitarian Universalist Archives at the Andover Harvard Theological Library. The vision for the manuscript has been to present these experiences over modest layers of both United States and Unitarian Universalist cultural histories for the period.  Skinner House folks have been encouraging all along. The interviews I can do are completed. I am depositing them at the Archives. The middle step, the manuscript, I offer to other scholars.

Since 2007, my ability to do this work has been eroded. I live with a chronic brain illness. I am told that each of the 13 brain surgeries I’ve had has affected my cognitive abilities like a major concussion. I am no longer able to sustain the work. It has taken time for me to accept these limitations, to admit that I cannot complete the project as hoped. And I am mindful that these interviews are too important to be languishing, pun embraced, in my closet.

It has been a privilege to be entrusted with the experiences told in these interviews. I am grateful for the courage, grit, and vision in each one. As I hand them off, I hope scholars and saunterers will find themselves well met in these stories. I hope, also, that UU’s will continue to fund the scholarly collection of primary historical documentation toward the goal that we tend well our living tradition.

Celeste DeRoche, Ph.D

APPENDIX:

The first out ministers and their settlements are:[4]

1980 Mark Belletini, Starr King Church, Hayward, CA

1980  Douglas Morgan Strong, All Souls UU Church, Augusta, ME

1982  Mark DeWolfe, Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga, Mississauga, ON Canada[5]

1984  Barbara Pescan, Beacon Unitarian Church, Oak Park,IL

1985 Kim Crawford Harvie, UU Meeting House of Provincetown, Provincetown, MA

1985  Lindi Ramsden, 1st Unitarian Church of San Jose, San Jose, CA[6]

The following is a chronological list of all the interviews completed:

6/24/08  Scott Alexander

6/25/08  Mr. Barb Greve

2/09/09  Meg Riley

2/09/09  Rob Eller-Isaacs

3/21/09  Charlie Kast

4/05/09  Chuck Gaines

5/02/09  Barbara Pescan and Ann Tyndall

5/12/09  John Buehrens

5/13/09  Bill Schulz

            5/14/09  Kay Montgomery

            5/16/09  Barbara and Bill DeWolfe (parents of Mark DeWolfe)

5/18/09 Kim Crawford Harvie

5/19/09  Gene Navias

5/20/09  David Pohl

            6/04/09  Wayne Arnason

9/16/09  Douglas Morgan Strong

5/16/11  Michael Nelson

            5/25/11  David Pettee

            5/26/11  Keith Kron

5/27/11  Jacqui James

5/31/11  Jory Agate

            2/22/12  Lindi Ramsden

4/24-25/13  Anne Odin Heller

Ongoing List of Interviews needed:

 As I was working, I kept a list of people who ought to be interviewed.  There were names discovered through the archival research.  I was also given names by the interviewees.  I hope folks who read this will have names to add.

Jay Deacon

Lucy Hitchcock

Diane Miller

Charlotte Cowtan

Dee Graham

Ken MacLean

Bob Schaibly

Tom Owen-Towle

ARCHIVAL RESEARCH

Then there are the ancestors.  The first out ministers stood on the shoulders of people whose stories can only be retrieved through archival research and I wanted to include the folks whose papers I accessed.

Mark DeWolfe

Jim Stoll

Richard Nash

Frank Robertson

Phebe Hanaford Coffin

Carl Seaburg

Charles Vickery

Richard Hasty

Bob Wheatley

These records are stored at the Andover Harvard Theological Library in the UUA Archives.

[1] This project was funded in part by the Fund for Unitarian Universalism and a [UU Women’s Federation] Margaret Fuller Grant.

[2] This conversation began in July 2007. My language of organization and focus reflects terms in use at that time.

[3] Interview, Charlie Kast, 3/21/09, pg. 8.

[4]As this is an involving project, it is hoped that people will add additions and corrections to this timeline.

[5] Clearly not interviewed for this project, Mark DeWolfe needs to be mentioned as his settlement falls within the parameters of this project.  He was spoken of often by many of those interviewed as a classmate and dear friend.  His loss is acutely felt.

[6] Lindi was the first out lesbian minister settled on the West Coast.

Book Review: The Gay Revolution

The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. Lillian Faderman. New York: Simon and Shuster, 2015. 816 pp. $11.99 (Kindle). $27.63 (cloth). $20.00 (paper).

My grandfather Umberto loved opera. And he taught me to love opera. “This is YOUR music,” he would tell me after taking me to see Madame Butterfly. “Love it.”

And so, over my teen years I found that, unlike any of my peers, I actually did love opera. But as I grew older, my taste diverged from that of my grandfather. More contemporary operas embraced me with their magic. Both the San Francisco opera, in California where I used to live, and the Cincinnati opera, in Ohio, where I live now, offer some of these gems every year. From John Adams’ Nixon in China or A Flowering Tree, to Sir Michael Tippet’s Midsummer Marriage, or Alban Berg’s Lulu and Wozzeck, I fell for the music of the modernist and post-modernist zeitgeist.

Here in Ohio, I often introduce friends to these “odd” operas by taking them to performances as my guest, as my grandfather once took me. Recently, the Cincinnati Opera premiered a new piece, Fellow Travelers, with exquisite music by Gregory Spears and a deft libretto by Greg Pierce. Set in Washington D.C. in the 1950s, the opera is about a gay man who comes to work in the State Department at the height of “the McCarthy Era.” Senator Joseph McCarthy is an actual character in the opera. The young gay man finds love, heartbreak, and betrayal. And familiar political memes from Communism to Richard Nixon thread themselves through often modal music, sounding sometimes like what many would identify as “sacred” music.

The friend who accompanied me is a student of music, a musician himself, a singer, and a composer. He is in his early twenties, one of the friendly baristas in my favorite café, but also a concert companion for unusual music. He was delighted to see “a musical premier.”

As we talked while driving home, however, I realized something that bewildered me. My friend and I had seen two entirely different operas. As a non-gay person, he spoke technically of intervals and harmonies. He mused on the musical quotations of John Adams’ percussive style throughout Spears’ score. I, on the other hand, a gay man of a certain generation, saw my very life on that stage — one of love, heartbreak, and betrayal. I wept frequently during the piece, moved by the interfused stories of the opera and my heart.

I praised the composer when I met him in the lobby afterward, for his music was gorgeous and moved me deeply. The deeper truth was that I could not much distinguish his troubadour-inspired music from my own emotion-elevated breathing. It was all of a piece.

Lillian Faderman’s book, The Gay Revolution, affected me in the same way. It wasn’t in any way like reading a biography of Channing, or of Queen Isabella Sforza of Transylvania. After all, I never met them. But I told my friend Doug that my shock upon reading this book was to note how many of the people in the book I had unexpectedly met in my remarkably fortunate decades as an adult: Harvey Milk in his camera shop; Troy Perry at a conference; Sally Gearhart at a funeral; Cleve Jones here in Ohio after a talk; Cecil Williams many times; Huey Newton, with whom I had sat many times at the Buttercup Café in Oakland sharing morning coffee; and Andrew Sullivan, a good friend of Doug whom I mentioned earlier. And, though I never met him, I sustained a moving email correspondence about “love” among gay male friends with Larry Kramer.

And of course, there was the Unitarian Universalist minister Steve Fritchman. When I read in Ms. Faderman’s book that he invited the homophile Mattachine Society to hold a large conference in the Los Angeles Church some 63 years ago, I raised my hand, exclaiming “Way- to-Go-Steve!” But it was my own memory that supplied the visuals: Steve’s bobbing, bald head, when he preached a downright side-splitting Installation Sermon for Peter Hans Christiansen in 1977.

So I found myself personally in The Gay Revolution, even as I found myself personally in the gay opera, Fellow Travelers. That opera portrays a page of my life, and this history portrays pages in my life. Both provide unique experiences for my heart. And, unlike any other history book I’ve read recently, I’ve lived within the context of this book. I have lived inside “the gay revolution” long before the book was written, as undoubtedly did the author, who was born in 1940. For example, I originally heard the story of the Stonewall uprising as oral history, a first-hand account from a man named Jerry in the San Francisco congregation. He had watched the whole thing from his window just across from the action…a play-by-play he told me with the vividness of an film-maker.

I also remember conversations with John Kyper, a New England Unitarian Universalist who spent some time in San Francisco and came to our church there. It was he, confirmed my Canadian gay and lesbian friends, who tried to bring print editions of Boston’s Gay Community News into Canada in his car and was banned from ever coming to that country again. Local GLBTQ folks in Canada, outraged, found in that embarrassing event the spur to help create, in that great nation, a more just society for sexual minorities—and to re-open the border to John.

There are other Unitarian Universalists mentioned in the book, although the word Universalist never actually appears. I cannot be sure if the author even knows much about UUs. Her way of talking about us suggests that she sees us as a capital C Church, a denomination of Christendom, not an Association of self-governing congregations without a common theology.

But even in a book of 800 pages, I was surprised to find any mention of us at all. We are religious small-fry in this majestic history. This is true of most religious institutions. There is no mention of Bill Johnson, a gay man ordained to the ministry in the United Church of Christ long before I was ordained. Although the Episcopal Church figures more prominently than we do, there is no mention of the late and in influential gay priest Malcolm Boyd, whom I met in 1979 the day before preaching a “coming out” sermon at the Mt. Diablo Church in Walnut Creek, California. After I told him what I was going to do the next day, he tenderly kissed me and laid his hands on my shoulders, to bless me in my task. A great encouragement to me.

Some religious organizations do appear throughout this book. On the positive side, there is the effective Council on Religion and the Homosexual. On the negative side, there are the loud protests against same-sex marriage offered by religious conservatives. But Unitarian Universalists are not major players in this book, and it is only at the hour of the same-gender marriage ruling by the Supreme Court that our presence in this history becomes more significant; even then, it is muted.

If we are not mentioned much, it may be because our attitudes toward same-sex realities of all kinds developed alongside those of other religious groups, and not far ahead of secular struggles. I am always amazed when folks who have only been part of our congregations since the 1990s imagine that our attitudes toward same-gender marriage, or ministry, were always open and affirming, all the way back to William Ellery Channing or Olympia Brown. This is not true. Even though Unitarians were not burdened with the millstone of an uncritical interpretation of Leviticus/Vayyiqra or the New Testament book of Romans, it was a several decades-long struggle for most of our congregations to accept gay or lesbian leadership, especially in the ministry.

After I had been turned down by several of our congregations, specifically for that stated reason, the Rev. Diane Miller, Interim Senior, invited me to be her Assistant Interim minister, since a congregational vote was not required. “You have to get your shoe in the door…this will be on your resume now. It can make a difference to search committees to see that you served well for almost two years.” It did. Bless Diane. And San Francisco, my first congregation, ordained me in 1979, with my partner at the time, Phil Porter, dancing joyfully on the chancel. I officiated at my first gay “union,” or marriage, as we say now, a month later.

But just as in society at large, the emergence of positive attitudes toward sexual minorities among UUs took some time and involved years of deliberate support from people we now call “allies” paving the way. Many colleagues, like Tom and Carolyn Owen-Towle, expressed their support early on. But institutionally, it began with Rev. David Pohl and Rev. Chuck Gaines, at “Headquarters” in Boston.  They took seriously the unhappy experiences of those of us folks searching for settlement at the very beginning of those years. We shared these unhappy experiences with each other first. We met on Sunday afternoons during football season, so we amused ourselves by calling ourselves The Fruit Bowl. Lucy Hitchcock, Charlie Kast, Barbara Pescan, Anne Tyndall, Anne Heller, Lindi Ramsden, and I were the mainstays, as I remember. Search committees that had interviewed us, and sent us packing explicitly for that reason, had asked frustrating questions: “Won’t calling you as our minister turn us into a gay church where the rest of us would feel uncomfortable?” or “That’s all you’ll really be talking about, right?” or “How can we possibly explain that you have a same-sex lover when our church hosts the interfaith Thanksgiving Service?” We decided to respond to these questions thoughtfully, despite our aggravation, and together, we crafted careful pastoral answers. Revs. Pohl and Gaines made sure a cleaned-up copy of our responses went out to all search committees in advance. It was an amazing and supportive thing to do. A small, but concrete step that ultimately led to affirmative programs.

These gestures of support, for the group of us wanting to serve in the Unitarian Universalist ministry, proved to be the small, hidden seeds that eventually blossomed into the open culture that we experience today, where many of our congregations delight in their lesbian or gay ministers, having called them without hesitation. There are still some hesitations about bisexual and transgender ministers, but even in cases such as these, there is notable progress.

The Gay Revolution made clear to me that what we did in our Association mostly paralleled what was going on in society. Small seeds planted, sometimes in very hard soil, eventually grew and produced the more accepting culture we now celebrate. Though the 2016 election results give me pause, I believe we must remain positive about what has been achieved.

We Unitarian Universalists were not leading the revolution by any means, but wrestling with these issues at the same time that progressives among Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, the Society of Friends, and Jews in the Reform, Humanist, and Reconstructionist traditions were engaged in the same process. I remember the jolt I felt when I read the progressive Methodist student publication, Motive Magazine, which offered the first religious writing to affirm homosexual realities in the church that I had encountered … back in 1971! We Unitarian Universalists had begun conducting gay weddings as far back as 1958, but this was done secretly (see Jeff Wilson, JUUH, vol. 35, pp.156-172). We eventually made faster, more universal progress, but we hardly left our fellow religious progressives in our dust. We practiced our principles, respecting the worth and dignity of every person, and we struggled to understand. As The Gay Revolution has made clear to me, it is the struggle that has made our gains real.

Ms. Faderman’s historical approach is to tell discrete stories about individuals in their local communities. Some of these people are well- known even to generalist historians—Harvey Milk and Del Martin, for example. Some of them, however, are unfamiliar, even to me, who studies this history often. The stories are remarkably balanced, featuring women and men, people of various ages and ethnicities, woven, story by story, into a majestic overview of the last seven decades.

In structure, Faderman’s book does not resemble any historical study I have read. She supports her storytelling with a collection of well-researched sources that are cited in the endnotes, which make up nearly a quarter of the volume. Her focus is sharp and close, so that the stories come across as intimate, like chamber music rather than the complex sweep of an opera. Each story she relates centers on one, or at most, two figures in the grand procession of years. As I read, I often felt as if I was in the room with someone mimeographing a newsletter, or protesting in front of the White House on a hot summer day long before the Stonewall event. The stories are all connected by the vector of a time-line, but each section could almost survive on its own. Certainly, I found her prose both clear and flowing, enjoyable to read for how she said things, as well as for what she said.

Some of Ms. Faderman’s statements proved to be at odds, however, with what I learned when I subsequently researched them. Her description of what the psychologist Albert Ellis said about homosexuality at a psychology conference differs from his own and other reports of the event. It is clear to me that Ellis, like so many others of his generation, saw same-gender attraction as pathological early on, changing his mind only later.
Its certainly possible he remembered the date of his transformation as having occurred earlier. But I do not think the incident is a clear as Ms. Faderman makes it.

In any case, it is clear that it took a lot of work, by a few courageous psychologists (one of whom hid his identity to protect his career,) to get the various professional associations to remove homosexuality from the category of psychological disease.

No history book is exhaustive. So its no surprise that some stories in this one are consigned to footnotes, like the contributions of Edythe Eyde (aka Lisa Ben, a clear anagram for lesbian). Lisa Ben gets a fuller treatment at an Instagram site, @lgbt history, which I found helpful on other occasions as I was reading this book. Despite Faderman’s editorial decisions, which I do not dispute, I was pleasantly surprised by how many stories of the struggle she did assemble into the pages of this volume.

What surprised me repeatedly was how so few people accomplished so much. Such people included brilliant professionals, like Frank Kameny, an astronomer who was foolishly fired by the government when his sexual orientation became known. Despite this blow, Kameny was indefatigable and single-handedly went on to accomplish what would seem like the work of ten. And though the Stonewall riot has now achieved mythic status—so that the name of the bar is enough to convey
the significance of the events that occurred there—Faderman rightly clarifies that it was the prior work of many small groups of folks, again and again confronting New York City of officials, that ultimately made the street rebellion so effective. Moreover, the thousand small steps that emerged after the riots led eventually to the second March on Washington in 1987 with 700,000 or so participating, according to police estimates.

One other thing I noticed as I read these stories was the extent of conflict and disagreement that marked the relationships between folks involved in the struggle. Many of these individuals, both women and men, did not particularly like each other, or they became easily irritated or resentful over strategies. Some, it seems, were ahead of others in their vision, or saw their needs differently, and conservatives chafed against those who appeared to be more radical. There has been similar conflict today. Resistance to same-sex marriage has not been confined to religious fundamentalists; some gay men and lesbian women continue to vocalize their distaste for the whole concept, and not for religious reasons. And, while some resist the idea of marriage due to philosophical objections, others maintain committed relationships, while refraining from legal marriage as part of a general trend in which marriage is seen as an unnecessary formality.

Faderman’s preface refers to the many identity labels that have been added to the titles, “gay,” or “gay and lesbian,” assumed by the Stonewall generation. She offers the most recent acronym LGBTQQIAAP, or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Allies and Pansexual. And though her book includes transgender episodes, Faderman points out that including the T in the acronym LGB was initially resisted by many gay men. Since this book was published, events such as the passage of anti-transgender rulings in North Carolina have raised new awareness of transgender issues. Finally, there is scant mention of the more fluid and ambiguous gender identities embodied particularly in the conversational lives of younger generations today. Faderman’s simple title, “gay revolution,” is based on her idea that while every generation prefers its own terms, ranging from the Sexual Invert of Havelock Ellis, to the Homosexual of nineteenth-century sexologists, “gay” endures as the tent that includes them all. Her argument for this is part of an ongoing conversation that may never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

In my last year in California, I saw another gay-themed opera: Harvey Milk. I had marched with 30,000 others on the evening after Milk’s death, so this opera was as emotionally charged for me as Fellow Travelers had been. The opera’s accurate portrayal of Milk’s political career, which concluded tragically with his assassination, is made more poignant by its opening. Harvey’s mother begins the opera by teaching him as a young boy about the light of Sabbath candles. The opera concludes, after Harvey drops from the bullets shot by Dan White, with his mother returning to the stage holding the Sabbath candles. She is followed by hundreds holding similar candles, a re-enactment of the original candlelight march in which I had participated long ago. At this point in the performance, I could not control my weeping. Then, when I left the theater to take the subway home, I was undone to see thousands of people holding candles, walking down Market Street outside the door of the opera theater. I had unconsciously chosen to see the opera on the anniversary of Milk’s death, when every year, that candlelight walk is performed as a ritual of honor and remembrance. All at once, I realized, with tears, that history, art, and my life were, to quote May Sarton, “wound and bound together, and enflowing.”

As I finished my first reading of Ms. Faderman’s beautifully written book, I found the power of those two operas echoing in her words and once again experienced that trilogy of history and art fused with my life. This book certainly won’t produce that feeling for every reader, as my barista friend made clear to me … but to sexual minorities of a certain generation, it probably will.

Rev. Dr. Mark Belletini
Minister Emeritus First Unitarian Universalist Church, Columbus OH

Launching the Grassroots Continental UU Rainbow Movement

Although UUs had been officially engaged in working for gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights since the 1970 General Assembly resolution to end discrimination against “homosexuals and bisexuals,” it wasn’t until 1985 that the grassroots movement of queer UUs became a national/continental presence. That February 50-100[1] LGB UUs (others not yet acknowledged) and a few allies gathered in Houston at one of the few UU churches served by an openly gay minister. It was a watershed moment that launched a new grassroots movement to end homophobia and promote the acceptance of LGB UUs as members, lay leaders, and ministers.

If you were there, you may remember that the leaders of the recently re-formed UUs for Lesbian and Gay Concerns—Carolyn McDade and Doug Strong—led an opening program called “Kindling Our Common Spirit.” On Saturday morning, Bob Wheatley, director of the UU Office of Lesbian and Gay Concerns for the past seven years, shared his experiences and his ideas about possible paths forward, in a presentation called “On Ground Hogs, Unicorns, and Other Mythic Creatures.” Four facilitators (Dorothy Emerson, Diane Neumann, Walter Gorski, and Paul Culton) then led a provocative discussion on “Our Right to Selfhood: Unlearning Homophobia.” Later that afternoon, after a series of workshops, the facilitators led a group process to envision our next steps: “Towards a Common Action—Sharing Visions and Strategies.”

Saturday evening featured a keynote talk by noted author Judy Grahn, “Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds.” And then a celebratory dance. It was such a joy to finally be together!

Bob Schaibly, minister of First Unitarian in Houston, gave an inspiring sermon at the Sunday morning service, acknowledging the historic nature of our gathering and welcoming us all to the church. That afternoon, the conference concluded with “Carry the Light,” another group process to help launch the next phase of the movement towards full acceptance and inclusion of us queer folks in UU life and the wider community.

The one controversial issue that arose concerned the need for lesbians to have women-only space and time during the convocation. To understand why this was important, we need to remember that at first the “gay” movement was led primarily by gay men. At the 1984 General Assembly, when I first became involved with the leadership and goals of the movement, I was shocked to discover that very few, if any, women were involved. I should not have been surprised, since most things at that time were male-dominated and many still are today. 1984 was the year that women ministers reached the threshold of 15% of the UU ministry, with the numbers boosted by the inclusion of Ministers of Religious Education. Our influence as women was just beginning to be felt, with different voices demanding to be heard.

At the biennial Women’s Federation gathering the year before, UUWF had recognized that for lesbians to be fully included in women’s groups, work needed to be done to address homophobia. I brought that agenda to the meeting of what came to be known as UUs for Lesbian and Gay Concerns, previously UUs for Gay Concerns. I objected to the focus in 1984 of passing a resolution to affirm the practice of clergy performing Services of Union for same-sex couples. Many women at the time objected to the patriarchal nature of marriage and were less than enthusiastic about focusing on marriage rights. Then I learned about the plans for a gathering and discovered that women had not been involved. Someone decided I should be added to the planning group, since I was in the Boston area where they were holding their major planning meeting.

Having come from a background of feminist organizing, I advocated for women-only space at the convocation, but the men voted it down. So, I felt gratified when women at the gathering insisted and signed a petition demanding women-only space at this and all future gatherings. A gay male participant (Stephen Storla) recalls an announcement at a general session of a woman-only space being designated. He had never heard of that before but understood it after it was explained. He understood what the men on the planning committee did not, that women needed safe space to empower ourselves to engage in this work against the male-dominated structures of our society and faith community. My participation on the planning committee resulted in the selection of a lesbian keynote speaker and the inclusion of lesbian voices in the workshops and discussions. And after the convocation, there was a general recognition that lesbians needed to be a visible and active part of future organizing.

The significance of this first gathering of UU LGB folks has not yet been fully explored. My goal in writing this piece is to encourage others who participated in this gathering to share your stories. What do you remember about the discussions and workshops? (If you took notes, please share them.) What were the results of the various discussions and group processes? How did the convocation affect you? What changes did you see as a result of this gathering?

Please send any memories or recollections that you have to coordinator@uurainbowhistory.net.

[1] Estimated

The Education of a Hayseed in Academia

I became a Unitarian Universalist in 1963, a few years before Stonewall, but my contribution to the Rainbow History Project is about my life not in UU settings but in academic ones. My story begins in the late 1950’s when I was an undergraduate at Indiana University and Vice President of the campus YWCA.  We called our staff advisor “Appy,” a sign of our affection for her.

Suddenly, after neither warning nor consultation with us student leaders, the YWCA Board fired Appy.  We had no idea why, and the Board didn’t say.  They hired someone else right away whom we soon also loved along with her often present husband Bob, whom she affectionately referred to as her “Old Sock.” We called her “Solie,” and went on with our busy student lives. We didn’t question the Board’s decisions.  But soon a rumor began to spread that Appy had been fired because they found out she was a homosexual. (We didn’t use language like “lesbian” or “gay” in those days.) I had no idea then and still don’t what was in fact Appy’s sexual orientation, or Solie’s either for that matter.

Soon came a follow-up rumor that the YWCA President, known to all as “Phyd,” was also a homosexual. I liked Phyd a lot and loved sharing YWCA leadership with her.  I will always remember the moment when somebody told me she thought Phyd was a homosexual. I remember that moment because it was the only time in my whole life when I hauled off and smacked somebody hard in the face.  I was that mad at anybody who would dare to tar Phyd with such an untrue and insulting allegation. You might call this opening piece of my story “Before.”

Having left Indiana University with two degrees, I began my professional life teaching in the English Department at Kent State University. One of my best friends there was my colleague Dolores Noll. She and I ate lunch together often, and we were part of a small coterie of English faculty who got together for frequent weekend parties.  On May 4, 1970, our whole Kent world was turned upside down by the National Guard shootings on our campus and everything that happened in the wake of that horrific day.

Maybe one of the things that happened was that people were no longer willing to keep quiet about what they knew to be true.  One day not long after the killings, my friend Dolores asked me to come over to her place. She wanted to tell me about the conference she had just attended in Washington, DC. When I went to see Dolores, I learned that in Washington she had attended not just one conference but two. One was a conference for English professors specializing in her field. The other was a conference of gay men and lesbians. By telling me this, Dolores was coming out to me, something that I had never experienced before. But she wasn’t finished with what she had to say. The conference had started her thinking about how there were surely many gay and lesbian students at Kent State who were in the closet. Certainly none was out. And Dolores kept thinking about how much pain those closeted students surely were experiencing and how much value she could be to them by providing an empathetic listening ear.

She had thought about this a long time. She didn’t yet have tenure in the English Department, so her position was really not secure. Nonetheless, she had gone to see Ken Pringle, the kindly chair of our department, to let him know what she was about to do. And now she was also telling me. She was about to write a letter to the editor of the Daily Kent Stater coming out to the whole university and inviting any students who would value honest conversation about their lives to get in touch with her.

She told me she wanted to let me know about this ahead of time because she didn’t want me to be tarred with the brush that would soon tar her. She was telling me that she would fully understand if I chose from then on to distance myself from her.  Dolores was breaking my heart. I think I spent more time in public with her after that, not less.  It delights me now to be able to report that Dolores Noll went on to be a trailblazing GBLTQ activist not only on the Kent campus but in the state of Ohio and nationally through the Modern Language Association as well as national GBLTQ organizations. In any event, you could call this piece of my story “During – Part One.”

“During – Part Two” also happened at Kent State University in the early 1970’s.  My special teaching area was creative writing, and my standard classroom method was that students read aloud in class what they had written and then we all discussed what we had heard. I gave quite a variety of writing assignments, but it was common for me to invite writing about some sort of personal experience.

One day one of my best students came to see me in my office. She wanted very much to write on the kind of personal experience I had suggested, and she wanted to write with candor. But – and now she let me know that our conversation was more in the nature of a confessional than a student-professor conference – she could not write what she wanted to write and needed to write if she had to read it aloud to the class. She let me know then that she was a lesbian. She was a student in the College of Education, and she was about to do her student teaching. If anyone found out she was a lesbian, she would not be allowed to student teach. She might even be denied her degree as well as her potential livelihood.  And the thing was that she still did want people to know her story.  She appealed to me for both understanding and help.

Together we hatched a plan. She wrote something innocuous for the class assignment, which she did read aloud and which the class did discuss. But that was not the basis for her grade.  Her grade, which of course was “A,” was based on a totally different, totally honest, response to my assignment, which she wrote for my eyes only.

But we did something else besides as a way of getting her truth out in the world.  At that time I was teaching a non-credit course in the Honors College in the field of Women’s Studies. I recorded my student reading out loud what she had written, and then I took the recording to a friend in the Speech Department, who altered the voice on the recording so that it was completely unrecognizable but still clearly understandable. I played the recording for my Women’s Studies class, and I recorded their discussion of it, so that I could then take that recording back to my student. Although she was unable to participate in the class discussion, she was at least able to listen to it. When I gave the original assignment – even though I had learned an enormous lot from my friend Dolores Noll – I was still quite clueless about the implications of what I was asking of my students.  You might call this part of my story “During – Part Two.”

After I left Kent State in 1978 and practiced law for three years, I went back to academia as Director of Writing and Research at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco.  The faculty, staff, and student body at Golden Gate included many gay men and lesbians. I can’t imagine anybody was in the closet there. And if there was any discrimination based on sexual orientation, it certainly wasn’t noticeable.

When I moved to San Francisco in 1981, I rented a flat on 19th Street, one block off Castro. Walking down Castro Street from the Castro-Market subway station to 19th Street was a delight for the senses, not just the fabulous scents of food and coffee but the perpetual music and fun. People had a really good time in the Castro, especially on holidays. I remember the 4th of July when I saw a group of nuns coming down the Hartford Street hill outside my kitchen window, and then as they went past I saw they had bare behinds. In short order I learned about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.  In those days I wrote long letters back to my friends in Kent, Ohio, that I called “Epistles from a Hayseed in the Castro.”

But the Castro in those days was not exclusively a place for fun and frolic.  Harvey Milk had been assassinated not long before I arrived. I soon learned that the shop on Castro Street where I bought eucalyptus oil had been Harvey Milk’s camera shop.  And then in the window of the drug store at the corner of 18th and Castro appeared a poster with a big photograph of somebody’s arm with a close-up of a very ugly sore. The words on the poster said, “If you have something that looks like this on your body, go to the clinic right away.” Some of my colleagues at the law school were beginning to do research on AIDS. They were not only interested in legal protections for people who were HIV positive or who were living with AIDS or dying from AIDS. They were interested in researching every possible cure that anybody could think of.

My world was now just about as full of gay men and lesbians as it was of straight people. I might be tempted to call this piece of my story “After,” to say that my education was by then complete. But that would not be the truth.

There was a student in the law school whom I paid no particular attention to, that is, until I began to notice that his appearance was somehow changing. At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was something about his hair. Maybe his hair was a little longer than it had been. And it seemed to have more curl than before, or at least more wave. It looked like he had not just combed his hair in the morning, but maybe he had been to a stylist. Then his clothing changed too, ever so gradually. And then one day it was clear that nearly everything about his appearance had changed. Then he changed his name too. And I started worrying in a big way about this woman whom I had long understood to be a man. How was this law student who used to be a man and was now apparently a woman ever going to get a job practicing law? I truly don’t know what became of that student. I do know that I learned that for this student of the world as it is, there is no piece of my story that can properly be labeled “After.”

Golden Gate University is a private school.  When the law school dean discovered how serious was that school’s financial problem, he determined to help solve it by eliminating the position of Director of Writing and Research. I had been there four years. By that time I had come to love the world of San Francisco and its people so much that I wanted to stay. At that point a new organization came to exist called the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. I applied to become its Executive Director, and I was honored to be granted an interview. I did not get the position, however, and eventually I did leave San Francisco and go on to teach in a very different sort of law school at the University of Florida. And eventually I left there to become a full-time student again at Starr King School for the Ministry.

Education never ends. The seminary is a seed bed for new learning to grow. And every congregation, I hope, is also a seminary. There is no part of my story to label “After.”

 

 

 

To Love and to Cherish, For Better or For Worse

Unitarian Universalists of the Cumberland Valley
October 3, 2004
© The Rev. Judy Welles

Invitation to Worship

Christopher Lemelin, Worship Associate

Three years, three months, three weeks, and three days ago, I became real.  When I calculated that time period, I knew exactly what I would say this morning—the magic in those numbers was unavoidable.

Three years, three months, three weeks, and three days ago, I became real.

You’re probably asking, “What do you mean, REAL?  What is REAL?”

In the children’s story The Velveteen Rabbit, the Rabbit asks this same question of the Skin Horse, the wisest of the nursery’s inhabitants, who was “so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and… the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces.”  Only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse” understand nursery magic, that strange and wonderful, free and careless logic of pure hearts.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s a thing that happens to you.  When someone loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.  “You become. It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  By the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Three years, three months, three weeks, and three days ago, I became real.  That was the day that Mike and I committed our lives to each other; that was the day I knew someone REALLY loved me, and not just to play with; that was the day I knew nothing else mattered except REAL LOVE.

Come, let us worship together.

Readings                        Letters to the Editors of Newsweek
in response to the July 7, 2003 issue “Is Gay Marriage Next?”

“I have been married to the same man for 30 years and it is because I hold marriage sacred that I wish to see it available to gay people.  The right to stand up in public and make binding promises to one’s beloved is absolutely core to equality.”

” …I am a member of a traditional, nuclear family:  a heterosexual male with a wife, two kids and dog and a four-door sedan.  Conservatives approve of me today, but 30 years ago, they would have cast me out in the cold along with the gays, because my wife and I do not share the same skin color.  Perhaps someday social conservatives will realize that they don’t need to destroy other people’s families in order to protect their own.”

“Congratulations on your July 7 cover story, “Is Gay Marriage Next?”  We shudder to think of the venom-filled letters you will get, and are dismayed that our fellow Christians use their religion to justify hate and judgmental attitudes.  We sit in the pews, too, and are the proud parents of a committed lesbian daughter and daughter-in-law, eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child so they can begin their family.  There are millions of parents like us who love their gay and lesbian children and celebrate that they have found people to spend their lives with.  Isn’t this every parent’s dream?”

“My partner of 20 years and I have attended each of my brother’s three weddings.  During each one, he has openly wished that the sanctity of marriage that he enjoys could extend to us, while we have hoped that our understanding of the principles of marriage would finally be learned by him.”

Second Reading          An Open Letter to President Bush

February 24, 2004

Dear Mr. President,

This morning you felt compelled to introduce an amendment to the Constitution of the United States defining marriage as existing only between one man and one woman.

You say that this will create “clarity.”  I would like you to share this clarity with my first-grade daughter on her school playground, when the children, imitating their role models as they always do, will take up the issue.  Because I dread those conversations with every fiber of my being.

Challenged by another child, my daughter will declare forthrightly that of course her two moms are married.  After all, we have wedding photos in our home, as any couple does.  They show her two moms, fifteen years ago, in front of our Unitarian Universalist Congregation.  Smiling, with many of our friends and family members around us.

You see, we have not yet discussed with this seven-year old, precocious as she is, the distinction between civil and religious marriage. She knows only that we are her parents, the only ones she’s known.  She knows that we got married in our church, as her aunts and uncles did, and that our neighborhood and church, her school and social circle, involve a significant number of kids with two moms and a few with two dads…

Of course, she knows that there are people who say that two men or two women cannot be married.  She knows that, not very long ago, some people said that no one could marry someone of a different race, but now of course we no longer believe that.  But I haven’t yet been able to break it to her that some people want to change our Constitution to say that our family isn’t part of “We the people.”.  I just haven’t found a way to fit it in between soccer and karate and church.

Tonight, I will sit her down, after we’ve done her homework, and have the conversation that I hoped I could avoid.  I will tell her that you, the President of the United States, have decided that only a man and a woman can be married, and that you want to make that part of our Constitution…  I will tell her that I don’t believe this change in the Constitution will happen, not enough people will vote for it. But it does mean that people may say very mean things to her at school about our family.  She will be afraid.  I will project confidence and good humor, but I will be afraid, too.

I do not want to teach my daughter that the President of the United States does not include our family in the people he serves and protects.  I do not want to say to her that the very flag she loves will be waved by people who believe that it does not belong to our family.

Please, Mr. Bush, tell me how I should conduct myself “without bitterness or anger” at this time, as you instructed me today.  Come over to my house tonight: you look at my daughter’s eyes as they absorb the fact that you, the first President she has ever known, think she can no longer be included in the very Constitution of this land.  You tell me how to “conduct this difficult debate in a matter worthy of our country.” Because I am at a loss.

Sincerely
The Rev. Meg A. Riley, Unitarian Universalist Association, Washington, DC[1]

Sermon             “To Love and to Cherish, For Better or For Worse”

Perhaps you’ve heard that on Thursday the House of Representatives emphatically rejected the federal Marriage Amendment.  I wasn’t too worried.  I don’t think this amendment has a snowball’s chance in Heck of ever passing, even if it somehow manages to get through Congress.  If we couldn’t pass the Equal Rights Amendment, they will never get this bigoted and unfair amendment through the states.  Even legislators who oppose gay marriage don’t think it’s a good idea to fiddle with the Constitution this way.

And I just learned this morning that legislation has been proposed in Spain which would make it legal for gays to marry and adopt children.  Apparently, it has a good chance of passing.  This would make Spain the third country to legalize gay marriage.

But this issue is really less about legality and more about feelings, and the feelings cut very deep.  The issues here are fear, bigotry, civil rights, prejudice, fear, love, hatred and fear.  What we hear most when we pay attention to the rhetoric against marriage for same-gender couples is that “the institution of marriage must be protected.”  And I’ve always wondered, “Protected from what?  What’s the problem if two men or two women want to get married and enjoy the same civil and legal rights as heterosexual couples?  Where’s the harm in that?”  It has never made sense to me.

This summer I decided to find out, and I sent a request to a woman I met on the Internet through a gardening forum.  Although we’re not supposed to discuss politics or religion on this forum, it was easy for me to tell that she was the polar opposite of me in both areas.  But she was also articulate, funny, and kind, and I thought we might actually have a chance at an electronic conversation about the issue of gay marriage.  I asked her to explain to me what the problem is, from her standpoint as a traditional Christian.  And I promised her that I would not try to change her mind.  That seemed only fair, since I was absolutely sure that there was no way on earth that she would change mine.

So she sent me a bunch of references, and I dutifully read them all, tightly clenching my teeth the whole time.  It’s amazing what absolute lies are told in defense of prejudice!  And I quickly realized that there was no way I could even respond to my garden forum friend; there was nothing I could say with any integrity that she would not experience as insulting.  There was nowhere to go with her on this topic except directly into a fight, and I didn’t want to do that.

But I haven’t been able to let go of it either — to let go of the injustice of it all, and to let go of how upset I am about it.  I thought that preaching a sermon might force me to think things through clearly and articulate what I believe the problems are.  Maybe I can help you to understand where your more traditional friends or acquaintances are coming from, should the topic come up for you.

As I said, a lot of the arguments put forth against the right of same-gender couples to marry have to do with fear.  Fear of losing something, fear of having something taken away, fear of being forced into something.  This is really important to remember:  hatred and bigotry are often masks for the deeper, underlying feeling of fear.  In this case, it’s really a fear of change.  Yet the reality of life, perhaps the only true thing we can say about life is that everything changes.  Everything.  Change is inevitable.  And for some people, that in itself is very frightening.

One of the common arguments against gay marriage is that gays already have the same rights as everyone else, and there is a particular “gay agenda” which is asking for special rights and privileges.  Start with gay marriage, and the next thing you know we’ll have a resurgence of polygamy, the end of free speech, the destruction of the family, no separation between church and state, the breakdown of the rule of law, anarchy, the demise of society as we know it.  Some people actually believe this.

But let’s start with the first question.  Do gays already have the same rights as everyone else?   In one article published by “Focus on the Family,” I was stunned to read this sentence: “In fact, people who practice homosexuality have always been viewed equally under the law.”

Here’s a story about how equal it is to be gay:  About a year and a half ago, the Rev. Bob Wheatley, a gay Unitarian Universalist minister, had a massive heart attack at the age of 83 and was taken to Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.  His life partner of fifty-two years, Kenneth, was with him in the ambulance.

“Who are you?” the hospital demanded when Kenneth presented himself.  “I’m his life partner,” Kenneth said.  “You have no status,” they told him.  “We need the name of a relative to identify him and give us directions for what to do with his body.”

“I’ve been with him for 52 years,” Kenneth replied.  “He has no living relatives.” “Prove it,” the hospital staffer responded.  “He wanted to be cremated,” Kenneth said.

“You have no power to authorize his cremation.  You may be wanting to cover up evidence about his death.  We’ll put his body in the morgue until we get some reliable direction.”

There was not a lot of help to be found.  Bob had never given Kenneth power of attorney, made out a medical proxy, or any other legal document.  His will was inadequate to express his request for cremation.  Kenneth called a crematorium which said they couldn’t pick up the body until it was released by the hospital.  The hospital would not release the body.  Every day Kenneth went to the hospital or phoned. No, they would not release Bob’s body.  This went on day after day for over a week until the hospital gave in. They didn’t want the body there anymore, and they were willing to bend the rules.[2]

For the $40 that it costs to buy a marriage license in Cumberland County, heterosexual couples receive 1,049 federal protections, rights, and responsibilities that are denied to gay couples.  Some of these are:  making life-saving or life-ending medical decisions for each other without power of attorney or medical directives; inheriting each other’s estates without wills; co-habiting in public housing; the protections of divorce court when relationships end; obtaining legal U.S. residency if one spouse is not a citizen; tax-free dependent health benefits; jointly filing tax returns; receiving Social Security survivor benefits.

I might just point out that some — only some — of these “privileges” that gays are denied can, in fact, be arranged through drawing up expensive and complicated legal documents.  That is, if the couple are resourceful, educated, and financially secure.  But marriage inequality falls particularly hard on those living on the margins: the poor, less educated, immigrants, the elderly, the ill, and those otherwise most vulnerable.  So, this becomes not only a gay rights issue; it’s also a matter of blatant classism.

One of the frequent arguments about how gay marriage will destroy the family states that the children will be damaged. Another article found on the Focus on the Family web site makes the disingenuous argument that:

“It took a generation for inner-city families to fall apart after the government began issuing welfare checks to unwed mothers.  Likewise, creating counterfeit marriage will damage the real thing and put more children at risk.”

“Indeed, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that boys and girls not raised by both of their biological parents are much more likely to suffer abuse, perform poorly in school, abuse drugs and alcohol and wind up in trouble with the law.

“Only a callous, self-absorbed culture would create legal incentives to engage in immoral, destructive behavior with children as guinea pigs.  America must be better than that.”[3]

What this author is saying is that children who are raised in any family constellation other than their two biological parents (one male and one female) are statistically much more likely to be damaged.  (I found this particularly curious coming from the garden forum friend, who is herself a divorced single mother of eight children.  How could she possibly believe this?)  This premise disregards that those inner-city families which are falling apart are suffering under poverty, racism, violence, poor educational and health resources, and a host of other social disadvantages that threaten their future.  The constellation of their family probably has less to do with their potential to become fully functional adults than economics does.

Okay, they say that the family is threatened.  Let’s talk for a minute about real families whose parents are both of the same gender.  I want to tell you about a family I know.  Take a look at your Order of Service, which shows the cover of Newsweek magazine about a year ago.  The man on the left, Dominic Pisciotta, is almost family to me, as he is the cousin of my new son-in-law, Frank.  I’ve met this couple several times.  The other man’s name is Andy Berg; they live in Manhattan.

They are resourceful, financially comfortable, and well-connected — and of course, like many other issues having to do with life as a gay couple, this admittedly makes things somewhat easier for them.  A year or so after their civil union ceremony in Vermont, they found a woman who was willing to be a surrogate mother, and she became pregnant with their children, twins Olivia and Spencer.  Dom is the children’s biological father.  The babies were born a year ago last spring.  Though I’ve never seen them, I feel like I know Spencer and Livvie because I’m fortunate to be on the distribution list for baby pictures taken by the Daddies, and my daughter Katy and her husband Frank do a lot of babysitting for these twins.

I sent Andy and Dom a brief message a few days ago telling them I was doing this service and asking for any thoughts they had about being gay parents, and this was Andy’s reply:

“What can I say about being a same sex parent?  My life is about as “alternative” as any other parent.  I get up at 7 a.m. every day, even if I don’t want to.  I covet the phone number of my babysitter in an attempt to keep anyone else from stealing her on a Saturday night.  My heart aches as I leave for the office every morning as one, or the other, of my children comes running to the door with alligator tears yelling “daddy!” “daddy!”  I think about my kids all day long and share stories about them with my colleagues.  …I’m in awe of the idea that everything in the world is new to them, and I dread the day they’ll ask me a question that I can’t really answer.  I love to squeeze them and kiss them and carry them around on my shoulders, or cuddle them in my arms.  The sound of their giggles and screams make me melt.

“Has it been hard to be a same sex parent? Not really.  But it has made it clear that our society doesn’t value fathers enough.  When I’m out with the kids, someone inevitably says that I have a lucky wife, or that I must be giving her a break.  They constantly marvel at my ease with the twins and say that their own husband would never be able to go shopping with the kids or take the kids to a park by himself or feed the kids with such confidence…

“Am I worried that Spencer and Olivia don’t have a mother figure?  No.  They have two amazing grandmothers, lots of aunts, and a whole slew of heterosexual mommies who have become my friends, confidants, and support system over the last year and half.  Our babysitter is a woman and most of our neighbors are women.  There is no shortage of females in our lives.  Although I do think that poor Olivia — the only girl in a house filled with three boys — will most likely be falling into the toilet more often than she should be.

“Our kids have enriched our lives and our relationship with one another.  They’ve made our family complete.  They’ve altered our social life, totally redefined the idea of a beach vacation, and reminded us that it’s the little things in life that are so important.  Being a parent is the best thing I’ve ever done.  And I think that the fact that our children have two dads will only enrich their lives and hopefully give them a more well-rounded view of the world.”[4]

This is new territory in American culture.  We don’t have a lot of data yet on children who were raised in households with parents of the same gender.  It’s all anecdotal at this point, and there aren’t even that many anecdotes.  Last year at General Assembly I ran into Karl, whom I had known as a pre-teen at the Oakland U.U. church when I was in seminary, an active and involved kid who was being raised by his mother and her partner.  Karl is now in his mid-twenties, a college graduate living in L.A. and working in the film industry.  He’s articulate, committed to his Unitarian Universalist faith, heterosexual, opinionated… he seems pretty normal to me!

This matter of the potential damage that might occur to children raised with same-sex parents strikes me as misguided.  We need to be concerned about the children being raised by people who don’t even like them, or who don’t like each other.  We need to be concerned about children raised in households where there is violence, substance abuse, neglect, malnutrition.  That’s where the threat to the future lies — not with children who are raised in security by parents and extended families who love them and pay attention to them.  The number and gender of their parents is not nearly as relevant as many other factors.

And furthermore, think about how well-rounded these children will be who are raised in an environment of such diversity.  Just as with children in mixed-race families and communities, what they will learn by experience and observation is that there are many ways to be a family; that people can be utterly “normal” even if they don’t fit society’s narrow mold.  What better way for them to learn to appreciate the inherent worth and dignity of every person?

President Bush and others who support the Marriage Amendment say that we have to protect the hallowed institution of marriage, which has existed for thousands of years and is now suddenly under threat.  That argument doesn’t hold any water either, when you realize that the way we understand marriage is less than 200 years old, and if you figure in the repeal of the miscegenation laws (which prevented inter-racial marriages), then marriage as we know it has only existed since 1967.  The institution of marriage has been constantly changing and evolving, just like other human institutions.

Marriages were originally undertaken as a peaceful way to transfer property, consolidate power, and assure inheritance.  Love had nothing to do with it.  Marriage was a business arrangement, and the bride was a commodity, often with no more legal rights than a child or a slave.  Polygamy was common until the Catholic Church decided to support monogamy for its own reasons, probably to cut down on promiscuity and to control procreation.  It wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1563 that the Church decreed that a marriage must take place in the presence of a priest and two witnesses.

And therein lies one of the current misunderstandings in the controversy over gay marriage.  People don’t make a distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage.  But there is a distinction, and it’s an important one.  Civil marriage is the legal contract that two people enter into which gives them the rights, privileges and responsibilities I mentioned earlier.  The marriage license is the legal document that confirms a civil marriage.  Religious marriage is the ritual whereby a community blesses a couple who are joining their lives by making promises to each other in public.  With language and ritual specific to the faith community, the union is acknowledged and celebrated.

In this country, it’s common for a minister to sign the marriage license, to certify that this couple is legally married.  Therein lies some of the confusion.  So it’s important to remember two things:  other people than ministers can conduct legal marriages (such as Justices of the Peace) and ministers can conduct marriages that aren’t legal.  That’s what I did for Christopher and Michael three years, three months, three weeks and three days ago.  That’s what I’ve done and Duane has done for several other couples, both in California and here in Pennsylvania, and we will continue to perform these religious marriages for same-sex couples regardless of the fact they’re not legal.  They aren’t illegal, they’re just not legal.  Some of my Unitarian Universalist colleagues will no longer sign marriage licenses until the legal right to marry is available to all couples, regardless of gender.  They will conduct a religious ceremony with all the bells and whistles, but the couple will have to find someone else to sign the license.

Because of the confusion between civil and religious marriage, one of the arguments that traditionalist conservatives are making against gay marriage is that if it’s allowed, clergy will be forced — against their religious beliefs, against their will — forced to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.  This is absolutely absurd nonsense.  The state can never force clergy to perform sacraments that are outside of their religious system or tradition.  (It can’t force clergy to perform any sacrament at all, in fact.  This is none of the state’s business.)  But unfortunately, this argument against gay marriage is out there, and I’m sure some people believe it.

People believe what they want to believe, often regardless of the truth or the facts.  The issue of gay marriage is an emotional one, and while there are factual, historical and legal arguments in favor of it (and possibly against it, though the ones I’ve seen are pretty weak), ultimately this matter will be decided not on facts, but on public opinion, on emotion, on a collective understanding of what is right.

My gardening forum friend wrote to me “we do not have the right to do what is wrong. …The freedom we enjoy does not mean we are free to do anything we wish without consequence.  It means we are free to do what is right.”

Actually, I agree with her.  We do not have the right to do what is wrong, and it’s wrong to withhold rights from some citizens which are freely given to others.  It’s wrong to blame society’s failures on gay parents (or on single mothers, for that matter.)  It’s wrong to shame people about who they authentically are, and force them to keep secrets or tell lies about such an important aspect of their lives.  It’s wrong to deny to people the right to pledge their futures together, to raise a family together, to live publicly with the same commitments and the same social acceptance that the rest of us enjoy without even thinking about it.  It’s wrong  to say that some people can love each other, and other people can’t.

At the end of her e-mail messages, my gardening forum friend uses the verses from First Corinthians that appear as the epigram at the top of your order of service. “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.”  This sermon is done in solidarity and in love.

Let the people say Amen.

Closing Words   “Vows,” from An Epithalamion, by Tony Kushner

Conjunction, assemblage, congress, union,
Life isn’t meant to be lived alone,
A life apart is a desperate fiction,
Life is an intermediate business:

A field of light bordered by love,
A sea of desire stretched between shores.

Marriage is the strength of union,
Marriage is the harmonic blend,
Marriage is the elegant dialectic of counterpoint,
Marriage is the faultless, fragile, logic of ecology:

A reasonable system of give and take,
Unfolding through cyclical and linear time.

A wedding is a conjoining of systems in which
neither loses its single splendor and both are completely
transformed; as, for example:

The dawn is the Wedding of the Night and the Day,
And is neither, and both,
And is, in itself, the most beautiful time:
Abundant, artless beauty,
Free and careless magnificence.

[1]An Open Letter to President Bush” by Rev. Meg Riley

[2] Excerpted from testimony given before the Massachusetts Supreme Court, October 23, 2003 by the Rev. Eugene Navias, located on the UUA web site at http://www.uua.org/news/2004/freedomtomarry/ma_031023.html

[3] “Homosexual Marriage Arrives in U.S.,” Focus on the Family web site, May 17, 2004

[4] Andy Berg, personal communication

LGBTQIA Rights and Inclusion

In 1974, after the worship service in our Quad Cities (Iowa) UU congregation, a member approached me with a challenge: “Tom, thus far you’ve tackled every social justice issue except mine. I’m a gay man, and I invite you to become our ally. Let’s come out of our respective closets here in this mid-western parish!” And we both did. I preached a sermon on heterosexism, and together we launched an ongoing Gay–Straight dialogue. This pivotal passage, forty-five years ago, also emboldened me to conduct gay services of union, although I wasn’t brave enough to have them occur on our church premises.

When Carolyn and I arrived in San Diego in 1978, as co-ministers, it wasn’t long before we were approached by a long-time, core member. He told us he was gay, and we said let’s talk about what are we going to do together. We started a gay-straight group at First Church, which included lesbians, gays, and straights. We used ‘gay’ as the defining word as we were not yet courageous enough to use the word, ‘lesbian’.

These transformative conversations led to the beginning of GLO (Gay Lesbian Organization) as its own distinctive entity to serve the needs of our now growing gay and lesbian community.  A gay minister who had been asked to leave his church came to us and offered to help us grow. With his help, GLO began to hold their own worship/support experience every Sunday morning before the regular service. They requested it early so they could attend the regular service. Their services were held behind closed doors and drapes, as numerous GLO members weren’t “out” either to family or work associates. Confidentiality and safety were major concerns. One of the founding members of GLO, Helen Bishop, went on to draft the continental UUA program/handbook titled The Welcoming Congregation. Another leader, Chris Hassett, co-wrote a book with Tom in 1994 entitled Friendship Chronicles: Letters between a Gay and a Straight Man.

At this time, the AIDS epidemic broke out. We ministered to the sick wherever we were asked to be. Every Thanksgiving the church held a beautiful feast for AIDS patients and their caregivers.  Additionally, First Church reached out to friends and families of AIDS patients offering a loving, supportive, and tranquil setting for memorial services and celebrations of life. Ours was known by the gay community in San Diego as “The Church.”

During our tenure at First Church (1978-2002), numerous LGBT organizations met for meetings, conferences, and practice/performance spaces. Such groups included PFLAG, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), the Women’s Chorus, San Diego Men’s Chorus, later, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus.

First Church also provided support and a safe haven for other spiritual groups dealing with sexual orientation issues. Today, it remains home to Dignity San Diego (the LGBT Catholic group) which holds its weekly worship services on our campus. And, as University Christian Church and other local congregations began their own discussions to become “affirming” or “welcoming” parishes, we, and our members, met with their lay and ministerial leadership to address spiritual and organizational concerns.

In the early ‘80s, a worship Sunday called “Wholly Family” became established as a yearly service. In these services all kinds of family groups participated, including always, a gay or lesbian family.  GLBT members have served on the Board of Trustees, have been RE leaders of children and youth of our community as Religious Education leaders; and have served since the 1980’s as ministerial and staff members.

Although “transgender” as a concept has been part of the church’s vocabulary for many years, few church members were aware of the struggle of one well-loved church family as they dealt with mom’s understanding that she was truly “he.” On a particularly meaningful “Wholly Family” Sunday in December 2001, two adults and their two children offered the entire congregation the gift of the struggles and commitment of redefining their family configuration. Their sharing gave congregants the opportunity to begin to appreciate the “otherness” of this most misunderstood aspect to “LQBTQ-ness.” They remain together as a loving family and as core leaders of First Church.

Today, following our ministry, First Church continues to make unflinching moves toward greater justice, compassion, and inclusion regarding LGBTQIA concerns.

In faith, hope, and love,

Rev. Dr. Carolyn Sheets Owen-Towle
Rev. Dr. Tom Owen-Towle

Here is a supportive testimony of a current leader at First Church:

I have been a member of First Church since 1992. First Church was the first place I ever felt totally safe in a majority heterosexual setting. It is the first place my beloved, deceased partner, then wife, Bonny and I could talk about and receive acceptance of support for our relationship. Because of Reverends Carolyn and Tom, my being a lesbian in a committed relationship was accepted and honored and I could be sad, be silly, be grieving, be needy, be applauded, be comforted, be honest, be all of me.

I know I don’t speak for myself alone but for all who were the “other” during Carolyn and Tom’s 24-year-ministry—for that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer person who tentatively stepped foot onto First Church’s campus. These straight, but never narrow, ministers gave us a place at a table we could only dream of—the great gift of their love and of helping me and us become “a part of” after years of hiding and being “apart from.”

Together, and in their individual ministries, they found ways to help our congregation explore “otherness” and support “oneness.” Because of their pioneering and support, this large and thriving 1000-member church has welcomed first gay; then lesbian and gay; then lesbian gay and bisexual; and finally lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning individuals and organizations. It is because of the Owen-Towles’ courageous vision and leadership that my church campus has become a safe place where all of us can share our gifts.

Jan Garbosky, member, First UU Church of San Diego (Church President, 2008)

 

The Journey of A Congregation

This is the story of a congregation coming to new understandings and new actions regarding lesbians, gay males, bisexuals, and transgendered persons. It began when two college students asked to give a Sermon on “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.” An ugly episode at a UU congregation involving two fine ministers who happened to be lesbians encouraged direct action on our part—General Assembly participation, workshops led by lesbians and gay males, sermons, community activity in support of them, careful scrutiny of our own workings as a congregation to be sure we were doing the right things, weekly newsletter articles for several years, and much else. The end result was a congregation fully committed to equal rights for all persons regardless of gender or sexual identity, and several staff people who are lesbian or gay male, with their sexuality not an issue in terms of their being called (two successor ministers) or hired.

Kenneth W. Phifer, Minister Emeritus
First UU Congregation of Ann Arbor

Here is a more detailed description of the congregation’s progression.

LGBT at Ann Arbor – A Further  Description

Ken Phifer

Personal

My first awareness of same sex love came in the Army, which may seem a bit late but reflects one of the many ways in which I was an innocent as a young person.  I recall that the word “queer” was a commonly heard insult, but it was directed broadly without any specific person being designated as whatever it was that a queer was, and I really did not know, nor at that time did I care.  I had very little sexual experience as a high school student, some with girls, a few with boys, but I was still a very naïve young man when I went to college.

Where I learned nothing about sex.  Indeed, it was the Army that provided the opportunity for me to engage in what is surely one of nature’s most delightful  experiences.  This was all heterosexual, as has been all my sex life since.  Truthfully, I did not think much about homosexuality, if at all, until a series of events made me aware of the serious disabilities with which gay males and lesbians had to live.

The first was a visit from one of my younger brother’s oldest friends.  This was in the fall of 1974.  He wanted to ask if my brother would reject him as a friend if he were to tell him he was gay, if my brother would think the friendship was based on this man’s sexual desire for him.  Never having discussed such a matter with my brother, I could only speculate, but my speculation was that my brother would still gladly be his friend, as turned out to be true.

But Kirk’s conversation made me aware as I had never been aware before of some of the difficulties with which people of a same sex orientation have to live.  I began to read and to pay attention to news items about this issue.  I paid closer attention to efforts by the UUA to establish an office at headquarters to deal with issues of fairness to same sex people.

Then a college friend I had not heard from since graduation in 1960 called me.  He was a photographer and had spent the years since we graduated in the Pacific Islands doing photographic essays on various Island peoples — brilliant and beautiful photographs and people.  He told me was back living in the U.S. and calling friends from college from whom he had hidden the fact of his sexual orientation to see if they were still his friends.  He would later tell me that every one of us was welcoming and supportive.  Once again, meeting a person and hearing him talk of his challenges pushed me into trying to learn more, and to figure out ways that I could be helpful in creating a more just society in which such people as Kirk and Fred could be welcomed and comfortable.

The Beginning at Ann Arbor U.U.

In late 1983, a college student approached me about doing a service on the theme of “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.”  She and another student, both lesbians, wanted to speak and wanted me to say something as well.  On January 8, 1984, we did that service.  It featured a reading from the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895, music by lesbian songwriters and by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, and the three talks.  The prayer/meditation time was a piece by an anonymous gay male titled “Does It Matter?”

One of the students, Brandy, spoke of the power of music, and mentioned several lesbian song writers and what and why they composed.  She then suggested that even with the prejudice found in most religious communities, it was precisely in such communities that there was hope for the conversations between gay and straight people that can lead to a society without prejudice.  She singled out UU congregations and the principles that guide them as being particularly good places.  She is, 35 years later, still an active member of the Ann Arbor congregation, and a song writer herself.

The other student, Mary Beth, spoke movingly of the oppression that had  burdened her life — no marriage possible, difficulty in getting even partial custody of children after a divorce, denied entry into the armed services and denied security clearances, the jokes and jibes that are directed at any one suspected of same sex tendencies, the exile from churches and from families when a person comes out, and way too much else.

I spoke of the ways that Jews and Christians in their traditions had been biased against homosexuals, and reminded the congregation of the efforts by the UUA in  1970, 1973, 1977, and 1980 to set up an Office of Gay Concerns and to encourage congregations to undertake educational efforts to end discrimination.  In 1984 — after this service — the UUA GA passed a resolution in support of clergy who performed services of union for gay and lesbian couples, several of which I had already done.

I closed my remarks suggesting several things we might do: encourage schools to provide accurate information about same sex behavior in their sex education  programs, work for both political parties to have platforms supporting gay rights, call in radio talk shows and write letters to the editor, loudly protest anti-gay TV shows, and “go right on caring for our children or our parents, our sisters or our brothers, our friends or even strangers who come out of the closet to us.”

Mostly for the next several years we did educational work in the form of occasional forums, occasional newsletter pieces, joining gay pride marches and other events, and finding material for our religious education classes that would honor the same sex experience in the same way as the heterosexual experience.

In the mid-1980’s, our congregation was busy trying to become a sanctuary church for refugees from El Salvador, which became a reality in June, 1987.  That summer we brought the Rodriguez family to live in our carriage house at the church, safe at last.

The Common Vision Committee

It was five years before we became actively involved in LGBT matters again, the hiatus largely due to two factors.  One I have mentioned, the demanding work of becoming a sanctuary congregation.  The other was a certain hesitancy on the part of many congregants to become involved in this issue.  This hesitancy could also be called discomfort.  It was not hostility.  Frankly, I perceived it and still do as primarily ignorance.

One respected senior member once told me how the whole issue of homosexuality made him squirm and caused confusion.  The important thing, though, was that he said he would keep trying to understand, and that is what he did.  I think a lot of others joined with him in that effort to learn more and be sure that what they felt and thought was fair and just and truthful.  This attitude made education our primary goal for these years.

I tried whenever possible to include references to LGBT issues, and to point out unfairness and outright injustice.  For example, a Regent of the University of Michigan vigorously opposed university funds being spent on an  Office of Lesbian and Gay Concerns, Various members of the congregation just as vigorously protested him, sending letters, making comments on local radio programs, sending letters to the editor of local newspapers, and trying as often as possible to include items in our weekly newsletter about issues affecting lesbians and gay males.

I should, perhaps, interject at this point to say that it would be several more years before we added the B and the T to the concerns we were addressing, not because of any animus but because we simply were not aware that these were also people who had been oppressed.

The major effort by our congregation to become advocates for LGBT people began in January, 1989, when I became aware of an ugly incident at Community Church in New York City.  A lesbian ministerial couple had been denied the call to an associate minister’s position there, primarily due to the efforts of retired minister Donald Harringon.  He had preached a few years earlier on his distaste (to put it mildly) for homosexuality.  He confessed to having given it a try in college — a confession that I think he made to qualify himself as an expert on the subject — and found it not right, indeed, unnatural.  I was told he contacted a lot of older folks to come and vote, using his considerable stature after more than forty years as the church’s minister, to persuade enough people to vote against the two women to defeat their candidacy.  I was angered at what he had apparently done, feeling he was wrong in his attitude toward homosexuals and wrong to have interfered in a church matter after retiring.

The UUA also felt this was wrong and began a process that became known as the Welcoming Congregation program to ensure that congregations gave LGBT ministers a fair hearing.  A proposal was readied for voting at the 1989 GA.  It called for three things: that congregations act fairly in considering candidates for ministry; that lesbian and gay male ministers be considered fairly; and that our congregations become involved in the Welcoming Congregation program.

On February 5, 1989, I addressed the congregation on this proposal, discussing affirmative action, equal opportunity, congregational autonomy, justice, and the oppression of homosexual males and females.  Following the service, we had an extended discussion about the resolution, in particular what, if anything, we should instruct our GA delegates to do when voting on the resolution.  We had a number of congregational discussions, and members of the Board and members of the Social Justice group interested in this issue and I had many personal conversations about what we should do.  At our May annual meeting, the congregation voted unanimously to support the Resolution.  Indeed, our support went beyond what the actual Resolution said, as it had been watered down by the UUA Board before GA.

In August, 1989, I called an open meeting of all those interested in working on how we might implement that resolution.  Thirteen people showed up, most of whom stayed faithful to the task through the next four or five years.  We resolved several things at that meeting.  We chose the name Common Vision.  We agreed to do all we could to look at our congregational practices to see if we were being fair.  This meant a careful study of our By Laws; attentive listening to sermons, lay presentations, the words of the songs we sang and the readings we used; our words of prayer and meditation; the books and other educational materials we used in religious education; the way we wrote in formal church publications; and other ways in which we communicated with each other and with the public.  We all felt — both gay and straight — that we had a lot to learn about how to proceed, and I was impressed and still am, by the harmonious spirit in which these people worked.

A second goal established at that first meeting was to open our arms to the wider society and welcome all those who were interested being a part of a liberal religious community.  This involved how we did publicity for our programs and our services, the signs and symbols that greeted people who entered the building (we put up a Pink Triangle and other local signs to show what we believed and practiced), and the effort we made to prepare a pamphlet that could advise lesbian and gay male couples where to find a minister to perform a service of union, where to get flowers, where to get a wedding cake, where to get wedding clothes, where to find musicians, and other matters attendant upon a marriage ceremony.  We also sent materials about what we were doing to the various support groups in the area, which in time would become the Rainbow Coalition.  We wanted to become known as a place of safety for LGBT people, a place where they could be full persons without having to check their sexual orientation at the door.  The way we thought of it was to create a community in which same sex couples would feel as free and comfortable as heterosexual couples did to hold hands, to embrace, to kiss, to in every way comfortable for them show their love for one another.

As part of our effort to become known as a gay-friendly place, but just as important, we sought to engage in the larger society on behalf of LGBT people.  We experienced one setback in doing this.  We had for several years been working to establish closer ties with the black community of our area.  The Ministerial Alliance, which included some 45 black churches in our county, stood strongly opposed to our efforts and particularly to me.  When we expressed our opposition to a resolution in the neighboring town that would have stricken from the city’s By Laws provisions that protected various minorities, the Alliance just as strongly  stood in opposition to us and to the city’s By Laws’ provisions.  When I retired in 2005, the wounds from that episode, made worse by several additional events where we were at odds with the Alliance, had not healed.  As saddened as I was by all this brouhaha, I believe we did the right thing.

On October 1, 1989, I preached a sermon on Our Common Vision.  For the only time in nearly fifty years of preaching, on that day a loud angry member stood in the balcony, his usual seat, and towering above me on the platform near the pulpit, denounced the very idea of a sermon on a common vision.  Many is the time when listeners have been upset at what I said, but only this one time what they (he) thought I would say!

This briefly is what I said.  I reviewed the history I have  written about above, including the four goals the Common Vision Committee established: affirmation, self-examination, welcome, and social justice.  I then spoke of how our twin heritages promote what we are doing.  Freedom in our Unitarian history is grounded in the infinite worth of persons, and Universalism teaches us that Love is the most powerful force in the universe.  Both point to an inclusive social policy and way of living.

I suggested we must learn to see things differently, like the minister at the bedside of a congregant who became angered at the brevity of a visit by two white-coated figures, a man and a woman, presumably a doctor and a nurse, who told the wife of the ill man she should call their minister.  The doctor and the nurse essentially ignored what the wife said, namely that she had already done so.  The minister chased after them down the hall.  She then tapped the man on the shoulder, and said, “Doctor, I am the minister.” To which the man replied, “Sorry, lady, she’s the doctor, I’m the nurse.”

I went on to say that we must work together, affirm every loving relationship, and strive for a new sensitivity in language.  I closed with the well-known story of the abbot of a moribund monastery who sought the advice of a rabbi friend.  The rabbi told him he knew only one thing, that the messiah was one of the monks.  When the abbot told his fellow monks what the rabbi had said, it changed everything in the monastery.  Each of the monks wondered if it was one of the others, or could it be himself? By treating each other as if one of them was the messiah, and also considering that it might be himself, each monk began to glow with goodness, and what had been moribund became dynamic.  That kind of common vision , I said, is what we should strive for in our congregation.

Despite the condemnation by the congregant before I delivered the sermon, it met with very strong approval.  This was the beginning of a several years-long effort to carry out our goals.  I will name some of the things we did to educate ourselves, to examine ourselves, to welcome people, and to work for social justice.

We invited the Reverend Richard Hasty, then the interim minister at First UU of Detroit, to offer a workshop on  homophobia for the Committee and the Board.  Out of that weekend experience came workshops for congregants.  This carried on for several years and people praised the leaders of them for their handling of what was then still a delicate subject for many people.

For several years we ran an educational column in the weekly newsletter, and had good response to these columns.

We had evening gatherings with movies focused on lesbian and gay male themes followed by discussion.  We also sponsored musical performances that featured music by LGBT people.  During Gay Pride week we sponsored a gay-friendly musical coffee house.

We hosted holiday dinners for lesbian and gay male folks whose families had essentially kicked them out of the family.

We presented Sunday forums on topics of interest to the LGBT community.  One issue of particular importance was trying t